Facebook is Snooping on its Competitors Using its Own VPN

Facebook is such a popular trend of the 21st century that someone who doesn’t use it is looked at with frowning brows. Without a doubt, Facebook has become a “digital home” of most of the people around the world.  While you’d claim you know everything how you can use Facebook, you might not be aware of how Facebook uses its “smart technology” to win hearts of its users. users. Here’s some facts about Facebook what you might find interesting and even shocking if they’re new to you.

Facebook’s Thinking dynamics

Facebook had a count of over 2.27 billion users in the third quarter of 2018, but it does not confidently sit on the couch and watch its platform work every day. Instead, it is sitting in a thinking chair, thinking of what will be its next move to compete with its tech competitors. Not only that, it is also sneakily snooping on the performance of its competitors.

That’s true! Although FB has the power, the influence, the resources, and everything that the company would ever dream of, it is still watching over its competitors and their potential threats of taking over it. Probably that’s why it grew into a tech giant we know today.

Food for thought:

While there is nothing wrong with watching over your competitors perform in the industry to better compete with them, it is still a question on how they do it.

How Facebook Lurks Around Competitors

Recently, in a public document, it was found out that Facebook is keeping an eye on its competitors by getting information using its own VPN. Now, generally, VPNs are not supposed to keep logs and data of its users. However, Facebook’s VPN was able to get the data of its users, giving Facebook an idea of how its competitors are performing in the market. Voila! So, VPN is all that’s been cooking in there secretly!

A Documented Proof

UK lawmakers recently released a cache of documents, and part of these cache of documents were the documents from Facebook’s servers. It was found out in these files that the tech giant has been keeping an eye on its competitors which include Snapchat and WhatsApp. Yes, WhatsApp, which was later bought by Facebook in 2014, but at the time of this report, it was still a competitor. Thanks to the surveillance, Facebook knew how important it was to buy WhatsApp!

So, the internal documents were labeled “highly confidential”. These documents included a presentation slide of 2013 data. The data is a comparison of “reach” of Facebook and its competing companies- WhatsApp and Snapchat.

Statistics of the Report

According to the slide presentation, Snapchat’s iPhone app ranked 16 with a reach of 13.2 percent. On the other hand, Facebook’s own messaging platform Messenger ranked 15 and had a reach of 13.7 percent.

Facebook snooping competitors using its VPN

WhatsApp was able to secure the US market as it has a sizable USA reach. It actually ranked third when it came to online messaging app. Skype ranked first and Facebook messenger ranked second in the presentation slide that was retreived in 2013.

Also, Facebook’s Messenger was left behind by WhatsApp in terms of engagement, as WhatsApp was twice higher than Facebook in terms of total messages sent.

Facebook’s Takeaway

Even though Facebook was ahead in this game according to this highly confidential document, but still the difference was very small. That is why it wasn’t surprising if the two apps would soon dominate. That is why Facebook has closely been monitoring the two apps as they were a big threat to Facebook, which defines exactly why it went in buying WhatsApp and tried buying Snapchat twice.

Controversies Against Facebook

Now, you might be wondering how Facebook was able to get this highly confidential and sensitive data. Like earlier said, it was through its own VPN or Virtual Private Network, called Onavo (See why buying VPNs for personal usage is becoming so common these days?).

However, the acquisition of Facebook, Onavo, is very controversial in the industry as it has always been linked with corporate spyware. Onavo has been known for keeping logs of its users. This has been the reason why Facebook was able to acquire the reach data of its competitors.

Although privately illegal and impossible to attain because of the legal consequences involved, keeping logs of users or surveillance has unfortunately been very common on a big-game level, like NSA, a government organization surveiling for personal data.

However, Onavo was removed from Apple’s App this year. This is in line with Apple’s new developer guidelines. According to its guidelines, it prohibits developers or apps that collect data from its users.

Later, Apple clarified that Onavo’s removal on the store is not because of Facebook’s issue, even though the change in their developer guidelines came after the issue about Facebook using Onavo to snoop into its competitors came out.

Even though Onavo is not on Apple store anymore, those who have downloaded it prior to such change, can still access and use it. It is also available on Google Play Store.

Facebook’s Confession

Facebook did not admit its use of Onavo in snooping on its competitors. However, it did admit that Onavo’s data has been used by other websites and apps to conduct market analysis and research for many years.

Facebook also added that they are very clear in Onavo’s terms of use. They clearly inform those who will download and use the VPN about the kind of information that will be collected and how this information will be used.

With this, users have a choice if they will download the app or not. They also noted that users have the option to change their privacy settings when downloading the VPN. They can deactivate any type of data collection on their VPN’s setting.

However, even though users have the option to change their app’s settings, a VPN collecting information from its users is a threat to online privacy.

VPNs’ Took Serious Notice of Online Security and Privacy

Therefore, most commercial VPNs, especially the big ones in the market, gave extra attention to online security and privacy. In the first place, it is what their products are for when it comes to personal usage. However, if a VPN keeps logs, activities, timestamps or other important user information, this can cause much harm to the users and also create serious legal issues for a small company, no wonder when it had for such a big company like Facebook.

These logs, if attained, can be used to trace the user and harm them. Even though Facebook’s claim is about market research and that users can opt to change its collecting data setting, a VPN should not be keeping logs or data of its users.

It is true that users have the option to download the VPN app or not. And for users who value their online privacy very much and would not like to be part of market research, they can look for other trusted VPNs in the market to add protection to their devices.

Facebook’s Acquisitions After Thorough Surveillance

In an attempt to completely dominate the market, Facebook has been on the lookout for apps or technology. They are very aggressive in buying companies. This is very true when they acquired Instagram.

Facebook also offered to buy Snapchat in 2013 for 3 billion US dollars. However, Snapchat’s chief executive officer Evan Spiegel is always quick to reject the offer.

Facebook tried to woo the company for years. However, it failed and just decided to replicate Instagram’s Story feature and incorporating it on Facebook.

Facebook also tried to buy WhatsApp with a whopping amount of 16 billion US dollars, where it succeeded to acquire the app which is known to have a massive following throughout the US.

Closing Word

Technology continues to change and develop. These names may be dominating the market today, but who knows in the near future Facebook will be able to totally dominate and buy all its competitors. On the other hand, one competitor may emerge and challenge Facebook’s reign and may change the tide. We never know. However, surveiling its competitors may have been a fair play in the cold war between competitors but it sure isn’t fair for users who vie for privacy in this digital era. Watch out for online surveillance!