If Facebook had a theme song, I think it would be “Anything You Can Do” from 1946 Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun, because if there’s an app out there that’s starting to circulate hype, Facebook “can do better.”
Snap Inc., the flagship company of Snapchat recently announced a lag in the amount of new users it’s been able to bring on board as of late. The thing is, Facebook comes out like, “Yeah, we know. You guys saw Instagram Stories, right?”
So how is Facebook able to keep up and at such close proximity to their competition? Onavo, that’s how.
Onavo Protect is an Israeli mobile-analytics company that was acquired by Facebook in 2013 which offers a VPN service to consumers as a way to “keep you and your data safe” by encrypting information over a secure network.
The disclosure is laid out by Onavo in their Terms of Service, but the likelihood of consumers carefully reading through the wall-o-text is slim.
If you were to look over Onavo’s TOS under “IP Ownership” you will find this little disclaimer toward the bottom:
Installing or using the Services on your mobile device transmits to Onavo certain information about your device and how you use it in connection with the services. For example, we may receive information such as the type of device you use, its operating system, your mobile carrier, your device identifier, applications you have installed, your usage of applications and their data consumption and the activities you have undertaken in relation to the Services.
Goin’ through your phone
So through the use of this application, Onavo anonymously sends aggregated user data to Facebook with details of what people do on their phones beyond the Facebook app itself such as what apps they’re using, how often and how long along with personal identifying information such as gender and what side of the world you’re on and how many pictures you take a day.
This kind of aggressive data consumption allows Facebook to monitor upcoming trends in their users in order to “shape their own product acquisition as strategy” as per those familiar with the issue.
All is fair and love and war, but startups may not feel the same way. It’s hard to compete with the ultimate one-upper, some say this forces the best entrepreneurs to be more creative.
Early investor in Google and Facebook and founder of the investment firm Elevation Partners, Roger McNamee felt the dominance of companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple were “choking off the startup world.” Many feel that copying is fair game and part of how business is done historically, but it’s clear to see with an advantage of real-time data gathering like Onavo by a giant like Facebook competition can easily be matched and then snuffed out.
For Onavo use on iPhones, it’s been reported that Facebook could be violating Apple’s developer agreement that allows apps to use data “only to provide a service or function that is directly relevant to the use of the Application, or to serve advertising” whereas Facebook is gathering this information to better Facebook.
Should there be a limit to the amount of what independent researcher and former chief technologist for the FTC Ashkan Soltani calls “competitive intelligence?”
Do consumers want to see Facebook’s version of every new innovation that comes around strictly for convenience of use or is Facebook really creating better options? At what point does the copy-cat game become offputting?