Australia’s ACCC consumer watchdog is bringing Facebook to court over the Onavo Protect VPN service that Facebook was forced to shut down in 2019. The ACCC says it deceived customers into believing that their information was private.
If found guilty of deceiving customers, the site could face a fine, as Australia takes an increasingly assertive stance against powerful US tech titans.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has accused Facebook and two of its subsidiaries-Facebook Israel and Onavo Inc-of misleading individuals who downloaded the Onavo Protect Virtual Private Network (VPN) app by gathering and using their “very detailed and valuable personal activity data”
Records of which applications they downloaded and the amount of time they spent using them were among the data reportedly used to help Facebook’s market research.
The ACCC alleges Facebook and its two partners falsely represented the now-defunct VPN service as keeping user data “private, protected and secret” between February 2016 and October 2017.
“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,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.
“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.” he further added.
Facebook has also paid fines in the US and Britain for the huge 2018 data hijacking fiasco involving the now-defunct British firm.
The Private Facebook documents that the UK parliament made public in the year 2018 after they were seized as an enquiry into online disinformation clearly shows that the tech giant using Onavo charts as a commercial intelligence source to understand which third party applications his customers have been installing and communicating with.
The Data gathered through Onavo revealed that WhatsApp was a competitive threat to Facebook’s Messenger app. Shortly after gaining this market insight, Facebook shelled out $19BN to acquire the rival messaging app, which isn’t surprising.
Facebook is now facing a massive antitrust case, where earlier this month 46 states accused it of suppressing competition through monopolistic business practices — with the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp cited as prominent examples.
The FTC and U.S. lawmakers are pressing for the unwinding of these mergers and the break-up of Facebook’s social empire as a necessity.
A Facebook spokesperson said the firm had cooperated with the ACCC’s investigation and would review the court filing.
“When people downloaded Onavo Protect, we were always clear about the information we collect and how it is used,” they said.
“We will… continue to defend our position in response to this recent filing.”