Onavo Protect was a free downloadable software application providing a virtual private network (VPN) service
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commisssion alleges that, between 1 February 2016 to October 2017, Facebook and its subsidiaries Facebook Israel Ltd and Onavo, Inc. misled Australian consumers by representing that the Onavo Protect app would keep users’ personal activity data private, protected and secret - and that the data would not be used for any purpose other than providing Onavo Protect’s products.
“In fact, the ACCC alleges, Onavo Protect collected, aggregated and used significant amounts of users’ personal activity data for Facebook’s commercial benefit.
"This included details about Onavo Protect users’ internet and app activity, such as records of every app they accessed and the number of seconds each day they spent using those apps,” the ACCC says in a statement issued on Wednesday, adding that “this data was used to support Facebook’s market research activities, including identifying potential future acquisition targets.”
“Consumers often use VPN services because they care about their online privacy, and that is what this Facebook product claimed to offer. In fact, Onavo Protect channelled significant volumes of their personal activity data straight back to Facebook.
“We believe that the conduct deprived Australian consumers of the opportunity to make an informed choice about the collection and use of their personal activity data by Facebook and Onavo,” Sims said.
The ACCC notes that the Onavo Protect website stated that the app would “save, measure and protect” users’ mobile data, while advertisements on Facebook’s website and app included statements such as “Keep it secret. Keep it safe… Onavo Protect, from Facebook”.
The ACCC is seeking declarations and pecuniary penalties in its court action.