Onavo Data Shrinking App May Pose Privacy Concerns

Onavo Privacy

Yesterday TechCrunch author Roi Carthy hailed a new app that he claims is a “must-have” for every iPhone data user: Onavo, a data shrinking app for iOS. But the obvious potential privacy issues with Onavo went right over his head.

Carthy goes so far as to suggest Onavo is “the very first app one should install” on an iPhone because of its remarkable ability to shrink your data and save you money on your wireless data bill.

But is there a catch to using Onavo? Yes.

Onavo Privacy

While Onavo’s ability to shrink your data is certainly impressive, remember that if something is too good to be true, it probably is, and Onavo is no exception.

Onavo iPhone Data Shrinking App

While Onavo does a fantastic job of shrinking your data — my own tests showed that Onavo reduced my data usage as much as 75 percent in some apps — it comes at a cost.

There is no monetary cost to using Onavo, as it is currently free, but you use Onavo at the expense of your privacy. To use Onavo requires you to route all of your data and personal information through a proxy so that it can be compressed.

Are you prepared to trust that Onavo, a previously unheard-of company, will handle all of the information you manage on your iPhone — your mail, your passwords, your credit card numbers — in a secure and responsible manner?

Although Onavo states in its privacy policy that it “will not store any content that you upload or download, such as message text, filled-in forms, and data that a website retrieved,” there nevertheless remain privacy concerns with Onavo.

Onavo still reserves the right to use certain “data in a manner that is attributable to you for a period of 6 months and will anonymize the data thereafter.” And they “may also share personally identifiable information with companies or organizations connected, or affiliated with Onavo, such as subsidiaries, sister-companies and parent companies.”

Given the recent outrage over Apple’s use of location data, you would expect iPhone users to be similarly concerned about sharing so much of their personal information with a small, relatively unknown company like Onavo.

Are you willing to trust Onavo with all of your important data?

Update May 1, 2011: Dvir Reznik, head of marketing at Onavo, replies in the comments: “We take our user’s privacy very seriously and store only the bare minimum necessary to support the service – all aggregated and anonymized. This is so that the app can report your savings, app usage, etc. We do not store any content such as messages, passwords, etc. Additionally, any sensitive content that is encrypted (HTTPS) can not and will not be processed by Onavo.”