Australia's ACCC Sues Facebook Over
'Misleading' Onavo Protect
December 16, 2020
ACCC has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against Facebook, Inc. and
two of its subsidiaries for false, misleading or deceptive conduct when
promoting Facebook’s Onavo Protect mobile app to Australian consumers.
Onavo Protect was a free downloadable software application providing a virtual
private network (VPN) service.
The ACCC 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. 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.
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.
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,” Mr Sims said.
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.