Facebook Wanted to Buy Spyware That Targets iPhone and iPad Owners

Mark Zuckerberg Facebook Credit: catwalker / Shutterstock
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Facebook allegedly sought to purchase a software tool to monitor iPad and iPhone owners, reports Vice. This indiscretion was revealed in a recent court filing from Israeli surveillance vendor NSO Group who is battling Facebook in court over allegations the security firm hacked WhatsApp messaging platform.

NSO Group is facing a lawsuit filed by Facebook, accusing the firm of hacking into the messaging platform WhatsApp and allowing authoritarian governments to spy on users of interest.

In a recent court filing, NSO Group claims Facebook allegedly tried to purchase its spyware software, Pegasus, which skims information from mobile devices. “Facebook wanted to use purported capabilities of Pegasus to monitor users on Apple devices,” NSO Group claimed in the filing.

At the time of the discussion in 2017, Facebook was starting to deploy Onavo Protect, a VPN client that analyzed the web traffic of users without their knowledge. Because of Apple’s restrictive policies, the company was limited in what information it could gather from iOS users.

According to the NSO filing, Facebook was not interested in hacking its customers but instead wanted a better way to monitor iPhone users who already were using Onavo. NSO refused Facebook’s request because it only sells that software to the government or government agencies.

Apple forced Facebook to remove Onavo Protect the iOS App Store by Apple in 2019 due to backlash over this undisclosed monitoring.

In response to these disturbing allegations, Facebook said in a statement shared with Vice that “NSO is trying to distract from the facts Facebook and WhatsApp filed in court over six months ago.” Representatives from the social media giant also told Business Insider that the filing “misrepresented a discussion between the two companies,” but the company did not elaborate on what was misrepresented.

This lawsuit isn’t the first charge that NSO Group has battled, nor will it be the last. The Israeli firm was accused of helping Saudi Arabia spy on high-profile figures like Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Saudi Arabian dissident Jamal Khashoggi who eventually was assassinated by the Saudi government in 2018.

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