Skip to main content

Facebook’s data-collecting VPN company has found a way to collect even more data

Facebook’s data-collecting VPN company has found a way to collect even more data

Share this story

Credit: Onavo

Facebook’s analytics company released a new app this week, which like many of their products, existed mainly to collect user data and package it up for Facebook.

The app, called Bolt App Lock, and is made by the same company behind the controversial VPN service Onavo Protect. The app was released on March 5th, as spotted by Tech Crunch, and was live until the afternoon of March 9th. After it received negative attention, Facebook pulled the app, saying it was “a small, brief test.”

The Bolt App Lock let you add additional security measures like PIN codes, fingerprint recognition, or pattens, to apps you don’t want others to easily access. Some apps, like banking apps and menstrual trackers, already require you to input a passcode or your fingerprint before you can log in. Others, like Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter, keep you signed in for longer periods and could use additional security measures from third-party apps like Bolt App Lock, Norton, or Keepsafe.

Once Bolt is used to lock a given app, Onavo will know how often the user is unlocking that app, a crucial source of user data that can be funneled back to Facebook. The app also reports back general device and network information.

People already don’t like Onavo, which is best known for releasing the Onavo Protect VPN service. Under the guise of personal security, the service collects user data and sends it back to Facebook. Facebook originally acquired Onavo in 2013 to gain more insights on user data. Like any VPN, Onavo has an extremely detailed view into the browsing activity of anyone using the app, effectively serving as a middleman for all requests.

Bolt App Lock had a similar disclosure about data collection at the bottom of its Google Play listing, where it stated, “We collect info about your mobile device and the apps installed on it.” It then added, “Because we’re part of Facebook, we also use this info to improve Facebook products.”

Although Bolt App Lock had no more than fifty installs in Google Play at the time of original publication, it’s easy to see the same kind of critiques leveled at it that have been brought up with the VPN service Onavo Protect. The core audience for VPN services and app-locking apps are generally those who care about privacy and data security. It’s unclear how safe they would feel knowing their data is going directly to Facebook.

Update March 9th, 7:29PM ET: Facebook has pulled the app and says it was meant as a test. This article has been updated to reflect the change.