Facebook's WhatsApp is in the middle of a lawsuit against the Israeli mobile surveillance company NSO Group. But before Facebook complained about the company's methods, Facebook seemed to want to use them for its own purposes, according to NSO founder Shalev Hulio.
Last year, there was news of an exploit that could install one of NSO's spyware packages, Pegasus, on devices that use WhatsApp. The latter sued the former and said that over a hundred human rights defenders, journalists and others have been attacked using this method.
Last year, Facebook finally closed Onavo, the VPN app bought in 201
In October 2017, NSO was joined by two Facebook representatives addressed who asked to purchase the right to use certain features of Pegasus, the same NSO software that was discussed in the plaintiffs' complaint.
Facebook officials said Facebook was concerned that its method of collecting user information about Onavo Protect was less effective on Apple devices than on Android devices. Facebook officials also said that Facebook wanted to use Pegasus' supposed functionality to monitor users on Apple devices and was willing to pay to monitor Onavo Protect users. Facebook suggested that NSO pay a monthly fee for each Onavo Protect user.
NSO declined because it claims that its software is only available to governments for law enforcement purposes. But Facebook has a certain irony when it comes to using the software against its users that it would later reject against its users. (WhatsApp maintains some independence from its parent company, but these events occur well after the purchase and organizational integration into Facebook.)
A Facebook representative does not deny that company representatives contact the NSO Group at the time, but said the testimony was an attempt to "distract from the facts" and "contained inaccurate accounts of both their spyware and a discussion with people working on Facebook." We can probably expect a more extensive refutation of our own documents soon.
Facebook and WhatsApp are rightly concerned that effective, secret intrusion methods, such as those developed and sold by the NSO Group, are dangerous in the wrong hands – as shown by activists and journalists, and possibly even by Jeff Bezos. As sensible as Facebook may be, the company's status as the world's most notorious collector and retailer of private information makes it difficult to take its sincere attitude seriously.