The CEO of Israel-based surveillance company NSO Group has claimed that Facebook proposed to buy its malicious software Pegasus in 2017 to snoop on Apple iOS users.
In court documents filed during an ongoing lawsuit in which Facebook has sued the NSO Group for snooping on WhatsApp users last year including in India, NSO CEO Shalev Hulio claimed that "two Facebook representatives approached NSO in October 2017 and asked to purchase the right to use certain capabilities of Pegasus".
According to a report in Vice on Saturday citing court documents, "it seems the Facebook representatives were not interested in buying parts of Pegasus as a hacking tool to remotely break into phones, but more as a way to more effectively monitor phones of users who had already installed Onavo".
Onavo Protect – a Facebook's software that was going to get the functionality -- was billed as a piece of VPN software. Onavo was used primarily to gather information about what other apps Facebook users were using on their mobile devices.
"The Facebook representatives stated that Facebook was concerned that its method for gathering user data through Onavo Protect was less effective on Apple devices than on Android devices," according to the court filing.
A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement that the NSO CEO is misrepresenting conversations between the company and Facebook employees.
"NSO is trying to distract from the facts Facebook and WhatsApp filed in court over six months ago. Their attempt to avoid responsibility includes inaccurate representations about both their spyware and a discussion with people who work at Facebook," the spokesperson said.
"Our lawsuit describes how NSO is responsible for attacking over 100 human rights activists and journalists around the world," the Facebook spokesperson added.
NSO has maintained that it sells Pegasus only to intelligence and law enforcement agency clients.
Apple last year forced Facebook to remove Onavo Protect from the App Store.
Facebook has even blamed Apple's operating system for the hacking of Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos' phone.
Investigators believe that Bezos's iPhone was compromised after he received a 4.4MB video file containing malware via WhatsApp -- in the same way when phones of 1,400 select people including journalists and human rights activists were broken into by Pegasus software from NSO Group last year.
In an interview to the BBC, Facebook's Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications, Nick Clegg, has said it wasn't WhatsApp's fault because end-to-end encryption is unhackable and blamed Apple's operating system for Bezos' episode.
The NSO Group has denied it was part of Bezos' hacking.