Following scandalous revelations that it was using its Research and Onavo VPN apps to spy on unsuspecting Apple users, the social network has now ended its unpaid market research programs and removed Onavo VPN for Android from Google’s Play store.

TechCrunch has the story:

Facebook will end its unpaid market research programs and proactively take its Onavo VPN app off the Google Play store in the wake of backlash following TechCrunch’s investigation about Onavo code being used in a Facebook Research app the sucked up data about teens.

The Onavo Protect app will eventually shut down, and will immediately cease pulling in data from users for market research though it will continue operating as a Virtual Private Network in the short-term to allow users to find a replacement.

In addition, the social networking behemoth has stopped signing up new users for the Research app. Existing installations of Facebook Research for Android will continue to function without the hiccup.

A Facebook spokesperson said:

Market research helps companies build better products for people. We are shifting our focus to reward-based market research which means we’re going to end the Onavo program.

This comes shortly after Apple blocked the app after finding violations of its Enterprise Certificate program for employee-only apps, a move that caused quite a drama at Facebook.

With the suspicions about tech giants and looming regulation leading to more intense scrutiny of privacy practices, Facebook has decided that giving users a utility like a VPN in exchange for quietly examining their app usage and mobile browsing data isn’t a wise strategy.

Instead, Facebook will reportedly will focus its energies on paid programs where users “explicitly understand what privacy they’re giving up for direct financial compensation.”

As for the Onavo app, which Facebook acquired in October 2013 for $120 million, the company has attempted to push this virtual private networking client on unsuspecting users within its mainland iOS app.

Apple pulled the Onavo app from App Store over improper data collection and other violations in August 2018. The app tracked things like per-app mobile and Wi-Fi data usage, time spent in apps, the visited websites and your country, device and network type.

More importantly, the data Facebook collected through Onavo revealed that WhatsApp was sending over twice as many messages per day as Messenger,  which prompted the company to acquire WhatsApp for more than $16 billion.

If you are using a VPN app to avoid geoblocking, you should by all means avoid, or at least be highly suspicious of, free VPN apps that in most cases sniff your Internet traffic.

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