Onavo

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Onavo
Subsidiary
IndustrySoftware
Founded2010
Founders
  • Guy Rosen
  • Roi Tiger
Defunct2019
Headquarters
Products
  • Onavo Count
  • Onavo Extend
  • Onavo Protect
ServicesOnavo Insights
ParentFacebook
Websiteonavo.com

Onavo was an Israeli mobile web analytics company owned by Facebook. The company primarily performed its activities via consumer mobile apps, including the virtual private network (VPN) service Onavo Protect, which analysed web traffic sent through the VPN to provide statistics on the usage of other apps.

Onavo was acquired by Facebook in October 2013. Facebook leveraged Onavo's analytics platform to monitor competitors, resulting in various business decisions and acquisitions.

Since the acquisition, Onavo was frequently classified as being spyware, as the VPN is used to monetize application usage data collected within an allegedly privacy-focused environment. In August 2018, Facebook pulled Onavo Protect from the iOS App Store due to violations of a policy forbidding apps from collecting data on the usage of other apps. In February 2019, in response to criticism over a Facebook market research program employing similar techniques (including, in particular, being targeted towards teens), Onavo announced that it would sunset the Android version of Protect as well.

History[edit]

Onavo was founded in 2010 by Roi Tiger[1] and Guy Rosen.[2]

Onavo had two rounds of funding: the first was a Series A investment for $3 million from Magma Venture Partners[3] and Sequoia Capital[4] in May 2011. The second was a Series B investment of $13 million from Magma Ventures, Sequoia Capital, and Horizons Ventures. Onavo's sale to Facebook is one of the top exits[5] for Magma Venture Partners and other Israeli venture capital firms.

On October 13, 2013, Facebook bought Onavo for approximately $120 million.[6][7][8]

Products[edit]

Onavo maintained consumer-oriented utility apps, including Onavo Count, which tracks bandwidth usage by apps, as well as Onavo Extend and Onavo Protect, which are VPN services for data compression and security, respectively.[9][10][11][12]

In 2013, the company launched Onavo Insights, a mobile analytics platform that tracks the market share and active usage of apps using data obtained from Onavo's consumer apps.[10] In August 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that since the acquisition of Onavo by Facebook, this data was used internally by Facebook to monitor competitors such as Snapchat, as well as startups that are performing "unusually well". This data influenced Facebook's subsequent acquisition of WhatsApp and the expansion of its live video business.[13][14][15]

Reception[edit]

Initial reception[edit]

Onavo won multiple awards in 2011. The company received first prize at the Mobile Beat 2011 conference hosted by VentureBeat,[16] and the award for most innovative app at the 2011 International Startup Festival, as well as being selected as the "Best Mobile Startup" by The Next Web.[17][18]

Privacy concerns[edit]

In February 2018, it was reported that Facebook had begun to include advertising for the Onavo Protect app within the Facebook app for iOS users in the United States. This led to denouncements of the app by media outlets, who classified Onavo as spyware because it is used by Facebook to monetize usage habits within a privacy-focused environment, and because the app listing did not contain a prominent disclosure of Facebook's ownership.[19][12][20] The app's listings were later amended to disclaim that Onavo Protect may collect information on app and website usage to improve Facebook products and services.[21][22]

In August 2018, Facebook pulled Onavo Protect from the iOS App Store after pressure by Apple, who declared it a violation of guidelines barring apps from harvesting data from other apps on a user's device.[23][24][25][26][27][28]

On February 21, 2019, in the wake of renewed controversy over the service due to the related Facebook Research program, Facebook announced that it would sunset Onavo Protect VPN and pull its app from Google Play Store. Effective immediately, the service ceased collecting personal data.[29]

Facebook Research[edit]

On January 29, 2019, TechCrunch published a report detailing "Project Atlas"—an internal market research program employed by Facebook since 2016. It invited users between the ages of 13 and 35 to install the Facebook Research app—allegedly a rebranded version of Onavo Protect—on their device, to collect data on their app usage, web browsing history, web search history, location history, personal messages, photos, videos, emails, and Amazon order history. Participants received up to $20 per-month to participate in the program, which was promoted to teenagers via targeted advertising on Instagram and Snapchat. Facebook Research is administered by third-party beta testing services, including Applause and BetaBound, and requires users to install a Facebook root certificate on their phone. On iOS, this is prohibited by Apple's Enterprise Developer License Agreement, as the methods used are intended solely for use by a company's employees (for use cases such as internal software specific to their environment, and internal pre-release versions of apps).[7][30]

Responses[edit]

Facebook initially responded by claiming that Facebook Research did not violate Apple's developer license agreement, and denied that the program was intended to bypass the rules that banned Onavo Protect from the iOS App Store, nor was intended to replace Onavo. Facebook later announced that it would discontinue the Facebook Research program on iOS. Facebook Research remains available for Android devices.[31][7]

On January 30, Apple revoked Facebook's Enterprise Developer Program certificates, which caused all of the company's internal iOS apps (including beta versions of its public software, as well as internal apps relating to Facebook's workplace) to become inoperable.[32][33] Apple's public relations team stated that "Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple", and that the certificates were revoked "to protect our users and their data".[32] Apple reinstated the certificates on January 31.[34]

Of particular concern was that users as young as 13 were allowed to participate in the program. Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal criticized Facebook Research, stating "wiretapping teens is not research, and it should never be permissible. This is yet another astonishing example of Facebook’s complete disregard for data privacy and eagerness to engage in anti-competitive behavior."[35][36] Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey announced that he would introduce a bill to strengthen the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and said that it "is inherently manipulative to offer teens money in exchange for their personal information when younger users don’t have a clear understanding how much data they're handing over and how sensitive it is."[35][36] Virginia Senator Mark Warner published an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, in which he declared that he was "working on legislation to require individualized, informed consent in all instances of behavioral and market research conducted by large platforms on users".[35]

Facebook Study[edit]

After discontinuing Onavo Protect and Facebook Research, Facebook released a market research app named Facebook Study (a.k.a. Study or Study from Facebook) on June 11, 2019. Access to Study is restricted to Facebook users who are at least 18 years old and have responded to a targeted advertisement for the app. Addressing concerns with previous incarnations of the research app, Study does not use a VPN or a root certificate to conduct its data collection. Study pays its participants through PayPal.[37][38]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Roi Tiger - CrunchBase".
  2. ^ "CrunchBase - Guy Rosen".
  3. ^ "Magma Venture Partners - CrunchBase".
  4. ^ "Sequoia Capital - CrunchBase".
  5. ^ Goldenberg, Roy (January 5, 2015). "Israeli VC raises $855m in new funds in 6 months". Globes.
  6. ^ Lunden, Ingrid (October 13, 2013). "Facebook Buys Mobile Data Analytics Company Onavo, Reportedly For Up To $200M… And (Finally?) Gets Its Office In Israel". TechCrunch.
  7. ^ a b c Constine, John (January 29, 2019). "Facebook pays teens to install VPN that spies on them". TechCrunch. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  8. ^ Rosen, Guy (November 7, 2013). "We are joining the Facebook team". Onavo Blog. Archived from the original on November 7, 2013. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  9. ^ "Data hungry apps revealed with Onavo Count, free usage tracker for iOS". Engadget. Retrieved February 14, 2018.
  10. ^ a b Cutler, Kim-Mai. "Finally, A Quantcast For Mobile Apps? Onavo Launches Insights". TechCrunch. Retrieved February 14, 2018.
  11. ^ "Onavo Extend helps you use less data on Android". CNET. August 30, 2012. Retrieved February 14, 2018.
  12. ^ a b "Facebook's New 'Onavo Protect' VPN is a Spyware App". ExtremeTech. February 14, 2018. Retrieved February 14, 2018.
  13. ^ Morris, Betsy; Seetharaman, Deepa (August 9, 2017). "The New Copycats: How Facebook Squashes Competition From Startups". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  14. ^ "The New Copycats: How Facebook Squashes -2-". Fox Business. August 9, 2017. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  15. ^ "Facebook knew about Snap's struggles months before the public". Engadget. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  16. ^ Hardawar, Devindra (January 24, 2012). "Mobile data shrinking app Onavo raises $10M, working on compression for Android". Venture Beat.
  17. ^ "Meet Onavo, crunching mobile data to save you money [Video Interview] #TNW2011". The Next Web.
  18. ^ "And The Next Web Startup Rally Winner is…SILK #TNW2011". The Next Web.
  19. ^ Perez, Sarah. "Facebook is pushing its data-tracking Onavo VPN within its main mobile app". TechCrunch. Retrieved February 14, 2018.
  20. ^ "Facebook's Protect security feature is essentially Spyware". IT PRO. Retrieved February 14, 2018.
  21. ^ Palladino, Valentina (August 23, 2018). "Facebook violates Apple's data-gathering rules, pulls VPN from App Store". Ars Technica. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
  22. ^ Wagonseil, Paul (August 23, 2018). "Apple Boots Facebook's Nosy VPN Out of App Store". Tom's Guide. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
  23. ^ "Apple removed Facebook's Onavo from the App Store for gathering app data". TechCrunch. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  24. ^ "Facebook will pull its data-collecting VPN app from the App Store over privacy concerns". The Verge. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  25. ^ Grothaus, Michael (August 23, 2018). "Apple makes Facebook pull its spyware(ish) VPN from the App Store". Fast Company. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
  26. ^ McKay, Tom (August 22, 2018). "Facebook Pulls Its Data-Harvesting Onavo VPN From App Store After Apple Says It Violates Rules". Gizmodo. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
  27. ^ Miller, Chance (August 22, 2018). "At Apple's request, Facebook is removing its spyware-like Onavo VPN app from the App Store". 9to5Mac. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
  28. ^ Morse, Jack (August 22, 2018). "Facebook to pull its creepy VPN Onavo from App Store after Apple pushback". Mashable. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
  29. ^ "Facebook will shut down its spyware VPN app Onavo". TechCrunch. Retrieved February 22, 2019.
  30. ^ Wagner, Kurt (January 30, 2019). "Apple says it's banning Facebook's research app that collects users' personal information". Recode. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  31. ^ Newton, Casey (January 30, 2019). "Facebook will shut down its controversial market research app for iOS". The Verge. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  32. ^ a b Wagner, Kurt (January 30, 2019). "Apple says it's banning Facebook's research app that collects users' personal information". Recode. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  33. ^ Warren, Tom (January 30, 2019). "Apple blocks Facebook from running its internal iOS apps". The Verge. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  34. ^ Isaac, Mike (January 31, 2019). "Apple Shows Facebook Who Has the Power in an App Dispute". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  35. ^ a b c Constine, Josh (January 30, 2019). "Senator Warner calls on Zuckerberg to support market research consent rules". TechCrunch. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  36. ^ a b Lapowsky, Issie (January 30, 2019). "By Defying Apple's Rules, Facebook Shows It Never Learns". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved January 31, 2019 – via www.wired.com.
  37. ^ Rodriguez, Salvador (June 11, 2019). "Facebook will once again pay users to install an app that tracks their app usage". CNBC. Retrieved July 27, 2019.
  38. ^ Constine, Josh (June 11, 2019). "Facebook's new Study app pays adults for data after teen scandal". TechCrunch. Retrieved July 27, 2019.

External links[edit]