More trouble for Facebook – this time with tech giant Apple

23rd Aug 2018
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Apple gets social media giant to pull its virtual private network app Onavo from the App Store for security reasons, with potentially huge implications for India.

Two of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech giants are at loggerheads. The world’s most loved hardware company, Apple, and the largest social network, Facebook, just concluded a meeting where the former has requested the senior leadership of Facebook to take down its security app Onavo, says a report by The Wall Street Journal.

Onavo is a data collecting app where users can interact with each other on a virtual private network hosted on Facebook. Onavo was an Israeli company and was acquired by Facebook in 2013 for its analytics algorithm, which understood app usage patterns. Facebook has used the app in the past to collect data on users’ app usage patterns and to scope out possible rivals, according to reports last year. Onavo data has been touted as the reason behind Facebook acquiring WhatsApp. The social media giant also used Onavo to study the impact of new tools – such as video technology – on user behaviour.

The whole discussion split over in June, when Apple wrote to Facebook saying the data collected on Onavo could be sold to third parties. Although Facebook denied any wrongdoing, this week, both parties could not come to an agreement on hosting the app in the Apple “App Store”.

Facebook has put out a statement with The Verge that it always informed users on what the app would do, and that the app adhered to iOS developer rulers.

The tussle between these two corporations could be a sign of things to come in India. Could Reliance Jio, for example, work with firms like Google to stop third-party apps like Onavo taking user data – data the platform would likely prefer to harvest through its own Jio app? Also, remember that Reliance has a retail arm, which has ambitions to take on retail giants Flipkart and Walmart, and its upcoming smartphones will form a major component of this push.

More importantly, every nation has created – or will soon be setting up – data sovereignty laws to protect citizens from losing their right to safeguard their data when it moves to foreign shores. The Indian government has just received recommendations from the B.N. Srikrishna committee to safeguard the data of Indian citizens and ensure that data stays in Indian data centres. Before this report becomes a law, every organisation will have to become compliant. But who is to say that organisations won’t take on each other even when laws regulating them are in place?

Android is owned by Google, which receives royalties from all smartphone manufacturers. For them, Facebook is an outsider in this ecosystem. In the data war to come, each player will want to control the platform that they own. Onavo, for now, remains available on Android devices. Is it time for Google and smartphone makers to follow Apple’s lead and act?

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