Small Israeli firm Onavo has been acquired by Facebook for an undisclosed sum suspected to be in the region of more than $150 million. Facebook has confirmed the news, and Onavo is already explaining that its apps will remain in service post-acquisition as a standalone brand.
The acquisition is likely to do with Facebook’s ambitions to connect the entire world to the Internet, which is the driving force behind its Internet.org initiative. Onavo, which says it has “millions” of users around the world, lets users monitor and control how much data they consume over 3G or 4G networks. This service is likely to be very useful in many nations where pre-pay cellphones are more typical, since these packages can include very limited data allowances. That makes Onavo useful for Internet.org in developing nations. Onavo also produces mobile data analytics, which will definitely be useful for Facebook.
On its face, this seems like a great deal that, thanks to Facebook’s global reach, may well help extend Internet usage. But don’t forget that Internet.org is not at all an altruistic move by Facebook, and it may have serious cultural and economic implications. Wider usage of the Internet, particularly on mobile devices, would drive more customers Facebook’s way (it’s desperate to accrue mobile users) and thus lead to more ad revenues for the service. Facebook, thanks to initiatives like its temporarily paused “Home” system, would also love to be the portal most people use to get to the Internet–a homepage for the world, if you like, because that way it can serve up ads, gather more analytics, and decide where traffic goes. The company’s also on a bender to destroy common interpretations of “privacy” wherever it can, including its recent move to remove still more search privacy controls from its users, which may have significant cultural implications.