Prior to Snap Inc publicly disclosing that it was facing slowing growth in its user base, Facebook was already aware courtesy of an acquisition it made in 2013 – Onavo. The acquisition is a mobile analytics firm which offers an app for data security and has been downloaded millions of times. With the data provided by the Onavo app, Facebook has been able to track rivals as well as find new product categories.
Sources indicate that Facebook uses the app to find out what people do not just on the social media giant’s apps but also on their mobile phones. Facebook has used that information to shape the acquisition and product strategy and thus giving it a competitive edge. Apple and Alphabet, who both possess mobile device operating systems, also have the ability and capacity to monitor their rivals but it has not been established whether that information has been used to shape product road maps.
Onavo is able to collect user’s data as whenever a mobile website or app is opened by redirecting traffic to the servers of Facebook. The product teams of Facebook can then conduct an analysis of the aggregated data in order to obtain detailed information such as what apps are popular, how frequently those apps are used, for how long those apps are used and with which particular demographic an app is most popular with.
In situations where the data is not encrypted, such information can be highly specific and can include how many posts a particular user has uploaded in a week or how many photos a particular user has liked in the same length of time.
24 million downloads
“Instead of converting data for the purpose of advertising, they’re converting it to competitive intelligence. Essentially this approach takes data generated by consumers and uses it in ways that directly hurts their interests…,” Ashkan Soltani, a former Federal Trade Commission chief technologist and independent researcher, said.
Some of Facebook’s biggest acquisitions and product developments have happened after acquiring Onavo. After purchasing Onavo in 2013, Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for $22 billion. according to sources data from Onavo had shown that WhatsApp was present in about 99% of mobile devices running on Android in Spain.