Facebook allegedly tried to buy Pegasus spyware to secretly track iPhone users
Facebook’s Onavo Protect did the opposite of protecting users. And it could have been more effective with Pegasus spyware.
NSO Group accuses Facebook of trying to buy access to its Pegasus surveillance software so it could better track the activities of iPhone users.
The spyware supposedly would have gone into Onavo Protect, a VPN app Facebook pulled off the App Store back in 2018 for violating Apple’s data-collection policies.
NSP Group airs Facebook’s dirty laundry in court
NSO Group makes the Pegasus spyware, a hacking tool for iPhone and Android that it licenses only to governments and law-enforcement agencies. Israel, its home country, monitors its activities to be sure the tech isn’t misused.
But its surveillance capabilities go beyond that. And so Facebook is suing NSO Group for hacking WhatsApp, giving security agencies and police inside access to this social-networking service.
As part of this court case, the CEO of NSO, Shalev Hulio, made a pre-trial declaration on April 2 that Facebook tried to license Pegasus technology to use in the iOS version of Onavo Protect. “The Facebook representatives stated that Facebook was concerned that its method for gathering user data through Onavo Protect was less effective on Apple devices than on Android devices,” Hulio said in his declaration. “The Facebook representatives also stated that Facebook wanted to use purported capabilities of Pegasus to monitor users on Apple devices and were willing to pay for the ability to monitor Onavo Protect users.”
Facebook’s Onavo Protect VPN was basically spyware
Onavo Protect, a free free VPN for iOS, allowed users to direct their network traffic through a private server maintained by Facebook. The virtual private network promised to “keep you and your data safe,” but Facebook also used it to collect user information.
It was label spyware by many because it allowed the company to track the browsing habits of users outside of Facebook. That’s a violation of the developer agreement every iOS dev has to sign. But Onavo Protect was never actually banned from the App Store because Facebook withdrew it after multiple meetings with Apple.
Even before then, NSO Group refused to sell it Pegasus tech. “NSO declined the sale and informed to Facebook that an NSO only licenses Pegasus technology to governments,” said Hulio.