‘Facebook knew early about the decline in Snapchat users via data of its own VPN app’

Facebook used a VPN app from the company Onavo, acquired in 2013, to keep an eye on competitor Snapchat. The app gave the company insight into what users are doing on their phones, which made it clear early on that Snapchat was losing users.

Based on its own sources, The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook uses the data to shape its own product and acquisition strategies. The data comes from the Onavo Protect app, which serves as a VPN for Android and iOS users and has since been downloaded more than 24 million times. All traffic goes through Facebook’s servers, after which the company can analyze the data, the newspaper said.

This makes it clear which app people use, but also how often, for how long and whether an app is popular with men or women in a particular country. If an app does not communicate encrypted, it is possible to obtain even more accurate data. A Facebook spokesperson tells the newspaper that it is clear in advance what information Onavo collects and how it is used.

The app touts itself by stating that it ‘protects personal information via a secure VPN network’. The privacy policy states that the app collects information, for example about the device itself. In addition, the amount of data used and sites visited, including data fields, can be tracked. The same applies to the content of messages. The data can then be shared with third parties. The company says it will only share personal data after users have given their consent or have been informed about it.

Researcher Ashkan Soltani explains to the newspaper that in this case Facebook does not use the data for advertisements, but to gather information about competitors. For example, the information would have had a major impact on the decision to buy WhatsApp. For example, the app showed that 99 percent of Spanish users had the chat app on their devices. The use of live streaming via Meerkat or Twitter also influenced the development of a similar feature by Facebook. The same would be true for features within Snapchat.

Portion of the Onavo Privacy Policy