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

The Verge logo The Verge 3/9/2018 Shannon Liao
a screenshot of a computer © Provided by The Verge

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

The app is called Bolt App Lock (currently available for free in the Google Play store) and it’s made by the same company behind the controversial VPN service Onavo Protect. The app was released on March 5th, as spotted by Tech Crunch today.

The Bolt App Lock lets you add additional security measures like PIN codes, fingerprint recognition, or patterns, 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 has a similar disclosure about data collection at the bottom of its Google Play listing, where it states “We collect info about your mobile device and the apps installed on it.” It then adds, “Because we’re part of Facebook, we also use this info to improve Facebook products.”

Although Bolt App Lock is a new app with no more than fifty installs in Google Play, 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.

We’ve reached out to Facebook and Onavo for comment.

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