February 14th, 2018
PSA: Don't download Facebook's VPN. They're going to start pushing it soon. Explanation below.
So, some of you might (will) start seeing a setting in your mobile Facebook app called "Protect." Hitting it will take you to the app store and prompt you to download an app called "Onavo Protect - VPN Security". It's a Facebook owned VPN.
"Hey Henry, what's a VPN?"
Great question. A VPN is a virtual private network. It's essentially a point on the internet that you can route web traffic from your phone/laptop/whatever through before going to the site you wanted to visit.
"Yeah... explain that like I'm 5."
You got it. There are times when this is helpful.
Let's say your favorite TV show isn't on Netflix anymore; it's only available on Netflix Germany. You could route your https://netflix.de/your-favorite-show request through a VPN in Germany so it looks like the request originated there, and pass all the traffic back to a laptop in your bedroom.
"That ... okay."
Or let's say you're in an airport and need to check your bank account, but you don't have a 4G signal on your phone. There's only a free and unsecured WIFI access point for you to use. You don't know who's in control of that. You don't want them looking at traffic you're sending your BANK. You could instead connect to a VPN that can establish a more secure connection to your bank's website/app/whatever and log in securely without worrying about some hacker or script kiddie looking over your digital shoulder.
"That actually sounds useful."
Last example (out of like fifty more), you can use a VPN to stop your ISP from looking at what you're doing. Whether you're downloading a stolen movie or just not wanting Comcast to see what you're up to, you can route your traffic through a VPN. You just keep hitting that one address for the VPN. The VPN is what connects to Facebook, The Pirate Bay, and whatever weird videos you watch in your free time. Comcast can only see you hitting the VPN. It's just a looooong list of you continually surfing to that VPN.
"Are ISP's really watching us THAT much?"
Absolutely. They look at patterns, see what people are doing, create customer profiles, and then sell all that data to marketing agencies. Fun fact, Facebook does the same thing whenever you're on Facebook or Instagram or whatever new social network they bought this week. They figure out who you are, what you like to do, and what you like to buy so that they can give you more relevant ads all the time.
"That's creepy as hell. Facebook is watching what I do on EVERY app they own?"
You bet. And Facebook owns a lot. of. companies. Like, a lot of companies. They're watching what you do on every single one that's still around. They're in the ad game, and they want to put as many ads that you'll click on in front of you as they can.
"Should I just delete Facebook?"
I mean, probably. Personally, I think it's outlived it's usefulness. But let's get back to this VPN thing. Facebook isn't giving out a free VPN out of the kindness of their heart. People have been saying it for years (specifically about companies like Facebook and Google), but if you're not the customer, your'e the product.
Again, these companies are gathering as much information about you as they can so that they can sell all the ad space you see on the internet to companies who want to pay to potentially gain you as a customer. If you're fine with that, cool, but it's terrifying to some.
Facebook is trying to get you to use their VPN specifically so they can see what you're doing on the rest of the internet that isn't Facebook.
One more time for the people in the back.
FACEBOOK IS TRYING TO GET YOU TO USE THEIR VPN SPECIFICALLY SO THEY CAN SEE WHAT YOU'RE DOING ON THE REST OF THE INTERNET THAT ISN'T FACEBOOK.
It's a raw end of a shitty deal. If you're cool with them watching everything you do without giving you any real benefit in return and truly feel like you have nothing you don't want them seeing, go ahead and download it.
But, if you're like me and my friends who think Facebook has gotten a little too big for their britches, please stay away from this. You're giving up a lot of internet freedom that people have been fighting for for literally decades without getting anything of benefit from Facebook besides more ads for dumb mobile games shoved in your face on every platform they own.
I absolutely LOATHE when people do this, but please spread this news around. Share this post, copy and paste it in messages to your older relatives, whatever you need to do. There are going to be plenty of people who don't know any better (people who have Facebook making up a majority of their time on the internet) that will see Facebook trying to "Protect" them and think it could only be a good thing. Help them keep their privacy.
Edited To Include:
This is just bonkers: "In August of last year, The Wall Street Journal took a look at how Facebook uses Onavo to track what people do on their smartphones outside of the Facebook ecosystem. Using Onavo data, for example, Facebook was able to determine that the Instagram Stories feature was impacting Snapchatâ€™s business well ahead of when Snap disclosed slowing user growth." - https://www.macrumors.com/.../facebook-promoting-onavo-vpn/
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