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Facebook Shuts Down Controversial Ovano VPN App

Responding to a continued backlash over its data collection practices, Facebook pulled the plug on its Ovano VPN app Friday. Ovano, which promised users an added level of privacy while using public Wifi hotspots, was used by Facebook for market research purposes.

Facebook removed the app from the Google Play store Friday, and the company is getting ready to disable it for users who already have the app installed on their phones. “We are shifting our focus to reward-based market research which means we’re going to end the Onavo program,” a Facebook spokesperson told Techcrunch, which was first to report about the changes.

Ovano was developed by an Israel-based startup close to a decade ago. Facebook acquired the company in 2013, and subsequently used the app to gather information on the way people were using their mobile phones.

Data gathered by Ovano included the names of apps installed on its users’ phones, which reportedly helped the company to identify the growing popularity of Whatsapp early on. These insights ultimately prompted Facebook to acquire Whatsapp for $19 billion in 2014.

Facebook’s use of Ovano to collect user data had gotten push-back for some time; Apple forced Facebook to remove the app from its App Store last summer.

The last straw may have been a separate market research program: Last month, news broke that Facebook had been paying some users $20 a month to install another market research app on their phones. Facebook ended that program after a clash with Apple, which led to Apple briefly disabling all of Facebook’s internal iOS apps.

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