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.”

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Can you please post the letters you have sent to your investors explaining how your company plans to make a profit for them?

You public information shows you have some heavy hitter venture capital of the same companies that invested in google, facebook, etc. I’d like to know how they plan to make money. My preference is to pay for your service and have none of my data shared in any form.


Even with the best Onavo’s intentions a breach of security could be an issue. This is why I stopped using google and moved to Bing. With the OS I already have no choice with Microsoft, why introduce my privacy to a second point of possible breach. Curious, how has a company of 16 employees managed to develop software since 2010 with no apparant source of income? I’d have a difficult time working for 3 years without a paycheck. Maybe Onavo needs to explain. I chatted with Motorola, one of their backers mentioned on their website. The person I spoke to… Read more »

Hi, My name is Dvir, head of marketing at Onavo. Thanks for the review, glad to read you saw 75% savings on your data! Allow me to address some of your concerns, I’ll be happy to answer any other questions from you or the readers. Onavo is a VC-backed startup, aimed at helping users take back control of their phone’s data usage, understanding what’s costing them and helping to reign in these costs. You can read about our team here – http://blog.onavo.com/2011/02/meet-the-onavo-team/. Indeed, upon installing Onavo, it sets up your iPhone so that data you receive from the Internet is… Read more »


The question is, why should I trust your application? What guarantees do I get as a user that my privacy will not be invaded?


I think Robert Scoble said it best:
‘Onavo has the same problem all cloud services have: if
they break a privacy contract they will kill themselves. I trust them.’