Recently, various tech websites reported that it is not a good idea to download Onavo Protect, a new VPN service produced by Facebook. Not only does Facebook prey on your data, the social media platform also reportedly used its VPN service to gather usage logs. As a result, once you install the Onavo app and turn it on, Facebook is able to track all the websites you visit, the service you use, and the files you download.
In addition to that, further research into the functions of the VPN app revealed that Facebook gathers data about the devices of users, possibly even when the app if it is not turned on.
According to the researchers, the iOS version of Onavo gathers a variety of device data types besides usage logs and server-side connections. The researchers reported that even if users switch off the VPN app, it continues to gather data regarding daily mobile data and daily usage of Wi-Fi. And, for unclear reasons, the app also detects when the device screen is turned on and off and sends the data to Facebook, according to the researchers.
The reasons for gathering this data are unknown. Some of the data that the Onavo app gathers, as discovered by the research, include:
- iOS version
- Mobile network code
- Cellular carrier name
- Daily wi-fi data usage
- Daily cellular data usage
- Screen status (on/off)
- Onavo app version
To be fair, the VPN app’s terms of service states in explicit terms that Facebook plans to use Onavo to gather large amounts of data regarding the online activities of users, including information regarding your data usage and mobile applications. This includes the installed applications on in your device, how you use it, the websites you visit, and your data consumption.
Furthermore, the social media platform also explains what it is doing with this gathered information, which is pretty much anything it wants. This includes sharing your “personally identifiable information” to other parties, such as law enforcement, service providers, and affiliates, under numerous circumstances.
Facebook’s Onavo VPN configuration is advertised as a tool aimed at protecting your personal information. That is, however, totally contrary to what it actually does. By installing and operating the app on your device, you are in fact giving away your information to a multibillion-dollar firm that makes money from ads and freely admits to sharing your information with whomever it deems necessary.
In addition to that, in the event that Facebook opts to sell the app to another company, it sells all the data collected by the app along with it, to whomever can afford it, anywhere in the world. You need not even be an online privacy enthusiast for this fact to be unsettling.
So if not Facebook’s Onavo, which VPN should you use?
Choosing the most suitable VPN
A VPN is immensely useful for not only hiding your identity and protecting your privacy from Internet service providers but also for helping users under oppressive governments get around online censorship. However, when choosing a VPN, it is important to make sure that the VPN service provider is well-established and trustworthy.
If you’re interested in identifying the best VPN for bypassing Geo-restrictions, maintaining anonymity online, getting around online censorship, ensuring maximum privacy, and torrenting, the vast options available to you can be confusing. So here’s how you can go about choosing the right one.
Determine your specific VPN needs
Not every user has the same VPN needs, so the most effective way of selecting the best VPN service is to assess your VPN needs before you begin comparing service providers. You may even discover that based on your personal needs, the router-based or home-grown solutions are already suitable.
Let us look at some questions you need to make and receive answers for, and how different VPN features may address certain needs. Just bear in mind that the same needs can be addressed on different levels by one provider, but the considerations are aimed at getting you to think about what features are most important for you.
Are you interested in securing access only to your home network?
If the only thing you’re interested in regarding security is your home network, then you don’t need a VPN hardware for your home at all. Not only will a VPN be overkill, it’s not the right tool for that purpose. Remote VPN providers offer access to remote networks (typically located abroad), not access to the network in your home.
For home network access, all you need is a VPN server operating on either the router in your home or a connected device. For maximum security and power efficiency, you’re better off running the VPN on the router.
For this purpose, our experts recommend buying a router with an inbuilt VPN server or flashing your router to a service that supports client mode and a VPN server. One such service is DD-WRT.
Are you interested in casual browsing to be secure?
Whether or not you’re an enthusiast for online privacy and security, you should get a VPN if you frequently use public Wi-Fi networks. Whenever you connect to the Internet using the free Wi-Fi at a hotel, school, airport or coffee shop, you don’t know just how exposed you are because the connection is not secure.
The firmware running on the network router may be compromised as a result of being outdated. The router may itself be malicious and actively monitoring packets and logging user data. It may be incorrectly configured and other users sharing the network could be monitoring your data or probing your device.
You can never be certain that an unknown Wi-Fi hotspot isn’t, either deliberately or due to technical shortfalls, leaving you completely exposed. Passwords, too, are not indicative of the strength of a network’s security because you’re still vulnerable even if you log in with a password.
In these circumstances, you need a well-established VPN provider with a lot of bandwidth to keep your social media, email, and other online activities well-secured. The VPN model outlined in the previous section would suffice, as well as a premium solution. You might only need a paid solution if you need massive bandwidth to stream content, for example.
Are you interested in plausible deniability and anonymity?
If your online privacy and security needs are more sensitive than streaming content or avoiding prying eyes at the coffee shop, you may need to pay a premium for any one of the top VPNs in the industry. While many providers promise anonymity, not many actually deliver on that promise.
It is imperative that you choose a VPN service provider that you can trust with your online data privacy. If you’re extremely cautious, you may even want to add an additional layer of anonymity by using a tool such as Tor, which offers beastly protection when used in conjunction with a VPN.
Many Internet users prefer to use setup VPN server software to get some plausible deniability for online browsing activity such as file sharing on P2P networks. By making it seem as though they are accessing the Internet from a different IP address, they can obfuscate their identity from other users in the swarm. Even though it’s not foolproof, it is still quite effective.
If these are your needs, then you need a VPN provider that has a strict zero-logs policy as well as a vast user base. The larger the network of users, the more users will plow through the provider’s exit nodes, making it even more difficult to isolate a single user from the ocean of others.
Many users steer clear of US-based VPN providers on account that US law enforcement agencies can compel those companies to retain all user activity on the VPN. However, no such requirements exist for VPN providers based in the US, although that may not always be the case. In fact, there are certain circumstances under which VPN providers based in the US can be compelled by different laws to hand over the data.
In addition to concerns about logging your activity, another primary concern when choosing a VPN should be the encryption standards or VPN protocol that the provider uses. This is because it’s far more likely that a malicious entity will attempt to siphon off your traffic and later analyze it than they will attempt to reverse engineer your traffic for the purpose of tracking your location.
Taking into account the logging, encryption standards, and VPN protocol brings us to our last important question to ask when comparing various VPN service providers.
Are you interested in simply masking your location?
If you want to make it seem as though you’re accessing a website from a certain country in order to access Geo-restricted content such as that provided by Netflix and BBC iPlayer, then you’ll certainly need a VPN that has servers in countries where the content you want is available.
So, if you want to watch content on Hulu, your VPN should have servers in the US. Or, if you’re interested in viewing shows on BBC iPlayer, the VPN you use needs to have servers in the UK. Leading VPN providers such as ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and CyberGhost will likely have servers in the locations that you’re interested in.