Wednesday, 16 December 2020 12:33

ACCC alleges Facebook misled consumers when promoting app to 'protect' users' data Featured

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Australia’s competition watchdog the ACCC has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against Facebook and two of its subsidiaries for false, misleading or deceptive conduct when promoting its Onavo Protect mobile app to Australian consumers.

Onavo Protect was a free downloadable software application providing a virtual private network (VPN) service

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commisssion alleges that, between 1 February 2016 to October 2017, Facebook and its subsidiaries Facebook Israel Ltd and Onavo, Inc. misled Australian consumers by representing 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.

“In fact, the ACCC alleges, Onavo Protect collected, aggregated and used significant amounts of users’ personal activity data for Facebook’s commercial benefit.

peter onava2

"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 says in a statement issued on Wednesday, adding that “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.

peter onava“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,” Sims said.

The ACCC notes that 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 in its court action.


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - an iTWire treasure is a mentor and coach who volunteers also a writer and much valued founding partner of iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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