Apple Yanks Facebook’s Onavo App Over Data Collection Violations

Onavo shared with Facebook the apps people used

Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook
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The tension between two of Silicon Valley’s biggest players is continuing to mount, with Onavo, a Facebook-owned app, booted from the App Store for violating Apple’s data collection rules.

Onavo’s removal was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. The app, bought by Facebook in 2013, acted like a virtual private network, masking a user’s location to “keep you and your data safe.” More importantly for the social network, Onavo’s real value was in sharing data on a user’s app usage — allowing Facebook to spot trends and target companies to acquire.

“Because we’re part of Facebook, we also use this info to improve Facebook products and services, gain insights into the products and services people value, and build better experiences,” said Onavo in its app description.

That put it at odds with Apple’s App Store guidelines, though, at a time when the world’s biggest tech company has positioned itself as the anti-Facebook. Apps aren’t allowed to grab and share data with third parties for reasons unrelated to the their performance, according to the App Store’s policies.

“We work hard to protect user privacy and data security throughout the Apple ecosystem,” an Apple spokesperson told TheWrap. “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.”


“We’ve always been clear when people download Onavo about the information that is collected and how it is used,” a Facebook spokesperson told TheWrap. “As a developer on Apple’s platform we follow the rules they’ve put in place.”

Facebook has scrambled to retain user trust in recent months, after it said that up to 87 million people were hit by the Cambridge Analytica data leak. CEO Mark Zuckerberg went to Congress and made the media rounds to apologize, and the company has tweaked its data collection policies.

Apple chief Tim Cook couldn’t hold back when asked about Facebook’s issues in April, saying he “wouldn’t be in this situation” if he were Zuckerberg.

“We care about the user experience. And we’re not going to traffic in your personal life,” Cook added at the time to MSNBC. “I think it’s an invasion of privacy.”

Zuckerberg fired back at Cook shortly after, calling the Apple head honcho’s comments “extremely glib.” 

Skeptics could point to dreadful conditions reported by Apple’s iPhone supply workers in China and question whether the company has the moral high ground.

Onavo had more than 30 million downloads across iPhone and Android before it was pulled from Apple. The app is still available on Google Play.