Onavo was once an Israeli startup specializing in data usage monitoring until Facebook purchased it in 2013. The company's VPN provider then became a data collection tool for Facebook, which it uses to monitor user activity outside of Facebook's main apps.
Despite this, Facebook claims it didn't violate any of Apple's store guidelines.
"We've always been clear when people download Onavo about the information that is collected and how it is used," a spokesperson for Facebook told The Verge. "As a developer on Apple's platform, we follow the rules they've put in place."
Why Apple Pulled Facebook's Onavo App
In a statement, Apple explained why it decided to have the app pulled from its storefront, as TechCrunch reports.
"We work hard to protect user privacy and data security throughout the Apple ecosystem. With the latest update to our guidelines, we made it explicitly clear that apps should not collect information about which other apps are installed on a user's device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing and must make it clear what user data will be collected and how it will be used."
Onavo And Data Collection
Why Onavo lasted this long in the App Store is the real story here, though. While primarily a VPN app, Onavo's real function is pumping a ton of data to its parent company, giving Facebook valuable data on things like, say, which apps are gaining traction and which ones are losing steam. That's valuable because with that data, Facebook can get a broad perspective on which apps — read: potential competitors — to acquire.
That side of Onavo has been made clear since the start. In fact, the description says outright that it collects "mobile data traffic" and hands it over to Facebook to "improve products and services, improve gain insights into the products and services people value, and build better experiences." Know which ads to show people, in other words.
Apple's removal likely won't change a thing. Facebook will still be the data-collecting beast it's always been, only now it won't be able to do that via Onavo on iOS devices. Between iOS and Android, Onavo has been downloaded 33 million times as of February. The number likely has risen in the months since. Cutting off the iOS group is a huge blow, but as usual, Facebook will find a way to undo this setback.