Another day, another regulator taking action against a big tech company. This time, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has Facebook in its sights for promoting an app that siphoned data from a user while promising to protect their privacy.
On Wednesday, the ACCC said it was launching proceedings against Facebook in the Federal Court for false, misleading or deceptive conduct while promoting its Onavo Protect app
The now-defunct mobile phone application was offered users a free VPN service, which was said to help keep their web browsing private while also reducing the amount of data they used.
According to the ACCC, Facebook and two subsidiaries misled consumers by telling its users that their data would be kept private, and that it wouldn’t be used for any other purpose than providing the service.
But instead the app collected way more data than that: specifically, details about their internet and app activity, including records of every app they accessed and for how long, down to the second.
“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.
The app was ultimately removed from Apple’s App Store in 2018 for violating its terms of service, including for collecting data about apps installed on the user’s device for reasons other than analytics. It was removed from the Google Play store in 2018.
This comes amidst the ACCC’s efforts to force Facebook (along with Google) to pay Australian news publishers for news, and their on-going investigation of the role that the digital platforms are having on Australian consumers.
Suffice to say, ACCC is keeping a close eye on Facebook.