Facebook faces preliminary probe in Brazil over data collection

25 September 2018 3:30pm

24 September 2018. By Rodrigo Russo.

Facebook Brazil is facing a preliminary probe over the alleged improper collection of data, according to documents seen by MLex. 

The tech giant is under investigation by federal prosecutors in the state of Bahia, who are looking into the use of a virtual private network owned by Facebook subsidiary Onavo that sends communications from an app via smartphones.

A VPN is a private or internal network that allows the creation of a special channel for users in different locations to have secure access to an intranet.

Under Brazil’s Internet Law, providers of connection services can’t keep records of the use of Internet apps. Prosecutors say that since the VPN service offered by Facebook allows it to gather data, it could lead to privacy violations. However, during its regular activities as an application provider, Facebook is entitled to collect data with user consent.

In documents dated Aug. 24, prosecutor Leandro Bastos Nunes said the facts suggest the company engaged in abusive practices. Facebook, however, defended its practices.

“Onavo Protect provides people with a free VPN app,” Facebook said in a statement. “We've always been clear when people download Onavo about the information that is collected and how it is used.”

The preliminary probe comes on the heels of a complaint filed by attorney Thiago Oliveira Castro Vieira and Pedro Antônio Dourado de Rezende, a computer sciences professor at the University of Brasília. The men took the matter to prosecutors in April.

The preliminary probe could pave the way for a civil lawsuit against the company. Prosecutors also could strike a deal with Facebook to settle the case.

In the complaint, Vieira and De Rezende say that the privacy policy on Onavo’s website acknowledges Facebook's monitoring, recording and analysis of third-parties’ access to Internet apps.

“[But] the monitorship of the traffic of digital connections coming from or leading to Facebook users’ platforms puts at risk the communications secrecy guaranteed by the Constitution, as some of the data monitored include VOIP calls, e-mails and instant messaging,” the complaint said.

“It puts at risk the secrecy of Facebook users [who give consent] ... and those that don't as communications monitored by Facebook could be directed ... to even those that don’t use the app,” Vieira and De Rezende told prosecutors.*

*MLex translation of Portuguese documents.

Global Privacy in 2018