Australia Fines Meta $14 Million for Collecting VPN Data

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australia fines meta $14 million for collecting vpn data

A federal court in Australia has fined Meta, the company behind Facebook, $14 million for collecting user data.

The case was in relation to a now-discontinued Android and iOS VPN app operated by its subsidiary Onavo.

Meta ordered to pay a $14 million fine

Meta, then-called Facebook, used to promote Onavo Protect as an app that helps internet users safeguard their personal information. Just like other VPNs, it offered them a way to change their location and hide their online activities from everyone, including ISPs.

Cybersecurity experts investigated it and found out Facebook was using it to collect user data for its own purposes. Onavo Protect was collecting information such as user location, time, online activity, and use of other smartphone apps.

Initially, Facebook pulled the app from the iOS App Store due to violations against its data collection policy. After further criticism, it officially shut down the data-snooping VPN in 2019.

Meta is now suffering consequences in Australia for deceiving users and pretending to protect their data while actually using it to help its operations. A federal court fined the company A$20 million ($14 million) for these violations. The lawsuit was launched in 2020.

Australia’s competition regulator reported that its citizens installed the app over 270,000 times between February 2016 and October 2017.

The watchdog said that Australians should be able to make decisions regarding what happens to their data based on clear information.

The competition regulator has also sued Meta for its Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data dealings.

The background

Facebook acquired Israeli company Onavo in 2013 in a deal worth about $120 million. Soon after came allegations of the company doing so to track its competitors.

Apparently, even before that, the social media giant used data from it to investigate why WhatsApp is outpacing Messenger. The problem was that the info wasn’t exclusive to Facebook.

This changed when the company took over Onavo.

By turning the VPN app into its own private tool, the company had everything it needed to understand mobile trends outside of its apps.

After identifying it as a potential Messenger killer, Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 in a $19 billion deal.

Meta is constantly dealing with accusations of misusing the information provided by its users. The above-mentioned Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal sparked a lot of interest in the company’s data practices.

The EU recently slapped the tech giant with a record $1.3 billion fine over handling of user data. This is one of the reasons why its new platform Threads still doesn’t accept EU users, even when they’re using a VPN.

Other platforms, such as TikTok, have recently started facing pressure over their practices as well.