Facebook has been sued by a regulatory body in Australia for allegedly (but we all know it’s true) gathering personal data from users without their knowledge or consent. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says Zuckerberg’s corporation used the Onavo Protect VPN app to spy on Australian users in 2016 and 2017, collecting and storing their data in order to boost Facebook’s profits. Facebook did this, the filing asserts, while telling users that the app would protect their data and keep it safe.
That is what a VPN (virtual private network) is meant to do: keep your data secure and prevent you from being monitored by nefarious actors like Facebook. But you really can’t trust any digital technology these days, especially if it’s being promoted by Facebook. If you want privacy you’d better just stick to face-to-face conversations, or maybe 2 way radios.
“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,” said a statement from ACCC chair Rod Sims.
“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 ACCC is seeking pecuniary penalties, though it did not specify how much.
Whether Facebook did what the ACCC accuses it of doing isn’t really up for debate. In 2018 the British parliament published internal Facebook documents that detailed how the company used data from the Onavo app to gather valuable information about user activity—as well as valuable information about competitors. For example, the app allowed Facebook to identify WhatsApp as a competitive threat, at which point Facebook moved to take it over. Classic predatory monopolistic behavior, and a clear violation of US antitrust legislation.
Where’s Ted Roosevelt when you need him?