Facebook now "protecting" you by installing literal spyware on your phone.

The Facebook iOS app now has a menu item labelled "Protect" that installs a Facebook's own VPN app. This lets Facebook "protect" you by intercepting and spying on the traffic of every other app on your phone including your web browser.

So that's pretty sweet.

Facebook is pushing its data-tracking Onavo VPN within its main mobile app:

Marketing Onavo within Facebook itself could lead to a boost in users for the VPN app, which promises to warn users of malicious websites and keep information secure as you browse. But Facebook didn't buy Onavo for its security protections.

Instead, Onavo's VPN allow Facebook to monitor user activity across apps, giving Facebook a big advantage in terms of spotting new trends across the larger mobile ecosystem. For example, Facebook gets an early heads up about apps that are becoming breakout hits; it can tell which are seeing slowing user growth; it sees which apps' new features appear to be resonating with their users, and much more.

This data has already helped Facebook in a number of ways, most notably in its battle with Snapchat. At The WSJ reported last August, Facebook could tell that Instagram's launch of Stories -- a Snapchat-like feature -- was working to slow Snapchat's user growth, before the company itself even publicly disclosed this fact.

Cybersecurity Roundup:

A generous, yawny Wired feature about how Mark Zuckerbrg is trying to save Facebook dropped a few freaky details about the way the company surveils its employees -- and also possibly how it surveils journalists (or others).

In explaining some of its reporting methodology for the article, Wired wrote something that has raised a lot of very concerning questions. It stated, "(One current employee asked that a WIRED reporter turn off his phone so the company would have a harder time tracking whether it had been near the phones of anyone from Facebook.)"

In another section the article explains:

Soon [former employee Benjamin Fearnow] was on a videoconference with three Facebook employees, including Sonya Ahuja, the company's head of investigations. According to his recounting of the meeting, she asked him if he had been in touch with [Gizmodo reporter Michael Nuñez].

He denied that he had been. Then she told him that she had their messages on Gchat, which Fearnow had assumed weren't accessible to Facebook. He was fired. "Please shut your laptop and don't reopen it," she instructed him.

So ... is Facebook tracking the phone locations of journalists? Questions, we have so many questions.

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18 Responses:

  1. At least they're acknowledging that they own Onavo now. They were charging people for that vpn service without warning them about the spying part of the deal.

    It turns out that facebook bought the company so they could keep an eye on hot new sites and use the traffic data to figure out who to buy or who to copy. Because facebook is honorable and upright.

  2. Happen Muche says:

    Can anyone make a serious case against Kaczynski's arguments?

    • Web Guy says:

      Jacques Ellul--philosopher, leader in the French resistance, righteous among the nations, and all around awesome guy--made essentially the same argument back in the 50s. After Kaczynski, now it's like "I don't want to hear any more of that unabomber shit." Thanks Ted!

      As for the articles, it's not just Facebook. Everyone I know in corporateland is finding himself on a shorter and shorter leash thanks to cloud/IT/social-media bullshit. On the one hand, that is not good. On the other hand, when highly-educated upper-middle-class kids in their 20s/30s making at least a quarter-mil a year still don't have the balls or the solidarity to draw a line in the sand, they kind of get what they deserve.

    • ennui says:

      well, language was the first step out of eden so he should have been targeting book publishers and writers instead of technologists...

      anarcho-primitivism tends to boil down to:

      1) human society can be static
      2) this would be a good thing

      Depending on what static configuration you like, you can argue about 2). but any sort of power, be it derived from spying on every one of your employees, or tricking people into needing to use a website in order to have any social connections, is destablizing to human society. if you think that society is always unstable and defined by balances and imbalances of power then any attempt to go backwards to find some stable initial state is a recipe for failure, and worse, a symptom of the sort of fear of instability that leads to mailing bombs to people, or dropping bombs on people from billion dollar aircraft.

  3. Chris H. says:

    "Then she told him that she had their messages on Gchat, which Fearnow had assumed weren't accessible to Facebook"

    Is the implication here supposed to be that Facebook has access to ANYONE'S Gchat logs? C'mon.

    • jwz says:

      The article is about Facebook surveilling their own employees. That they have compromised their devices and are reading their mail isn't exactly a reach.

      • Chris H. says:

        I guess not, but it's also not much of a scandal.

        • jwz says:

          Nobody wants to hear you say "meh". Ever. Your lack of interest in a topic is uninteresting to literally everybody.

          • Chris H. says:

            I was just trying to figure out what that quote was supposed to mean. If it's "Facebook has access to and employee's (presumably personal) Gchat logs" then yeah, that's a huge deal. If it's just that a company can access a company-owned device, it's not.

            The tracking proximity thing is interesting, of course. If there's anything to it.

        • Derpatron9000 says:

          You can't believe this, unless you're in on it.

        • Marten says:

          It is completely and utterly illegal in the EU though.

  4. Ben Rosengart says:

    In better times, I'd say "where's the FTC", but we all know the foxes run the henhouse now.

  5. Anthony says:

    As with any 'free' vpn, it should be taken with a grain of salt. They all suck and are all unsecured. Ppl are better off paying for ExpressVPN or some other anonymous service.

  6. MattyJ says:

    I miss the old days when you just had to delete a cookie now and again. Sigh.

  7. MrEricSir says:

    There's something uniquely American about a for-profit corporation putting a positive spin on behaving like the KGB.

    • HerpaDerp says:

      Goes hand in hand with a US President who wants to build big walls like the USSR used to.

    • k3ninho says:

      I think it's called 'the CIA Playbook', especially the bit about likening it to the KGB.

      K3n.

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