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Facebook facing allegations of misleading customers over data


Facebook is again in strife with regulators after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission started Federal Court action over the social media platform and two of its subsidiaries allegedly harvesting data through its Onavo VPN product when they said they wouldn’t.


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Onavo Protect was a free downloadable software application that provided a virtual private network (VPN) service.

The ACCC alleged that in 2017, Facebook claimed 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.

But the competition watchdog 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 said.

“This data was used to support Facebook’s market research activities, including identifying potential future acquisition targets.”

“Through Onavo Protect, Facebook was collecting and using the very detailed and valuable personal activity data of thousands of Australian consumers for its own commercial purposes, which we believe is completely contrary to the promise of protection, secrecy and privacy that was central to Facebook’s promotion of this app,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“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.”

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.

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