5 Ways Your VPN Is Not as Private as You Think It Is

Christian Cawley 15-04-2016

Virtual Private Networks are a vital element of your online security. While you may be confident in your home or work network security, there is no way to use public Wi-Fi safely without a VPN.


But setting up a VPN comes with a very important trust issue — that no one is able to find out what websites you’re accessing. This is as vital for keeping your bank details private as it is for concealing other personal online activity — and the nature of secure transactions and data encryption means that you cannot have one without the other.

However, not all VPNs are as secure as you might think. While they might offer a range of all-important, impressive-sounding security bells and whistles, the truth is that few of them — if any — offer a truly private experience. Here’s why.

1. Complete Anonymity Is a Lie

How much are you paying in VPN subscriptions? $100 a year? More? All for that guarantee that your privacy is being maintained — that you are anonymous online.


Well, we’ve got news for you. You’re not anonymous. While your VPN provider may well be promising that their service is anonymous, with no logging, there is no way that you can verify this. Indeed, it’s quite a leap of faith, under the circumstances.


“…you have absolutely no way to know for sure how safe a ‘No logs’ claim really is. Trusting your life to a no logs VPN service it is like gambling with your life in the Russian roulette.”

-Wipe Your Data

What is most important from a VPN provider — anonymity, or transparency? We reckon finding a VPN that you can trust trumps any fake notion of anonymity and the avoidance of keeping logs. The trick is finding a VPN that truly appreciates your anonymity and privacy, and we’re afraid that such networks are in very short supply.

2. Anonymity Does Not Equal Privacy

Some VPNs provide tools to control your privacy. Such features can be used to manage access to your personal data, but they don’t eradicate all data that can be used to identify you.

Even if you were to combine a VPN with Tor and encrypted messaging 6 Open Source Messaging Apps More Secure Than Skype Skype has never been the most safe or secure communication protocol, and after Microsoft took over in 2011, concerns over privacy began to pile up. Can these secure, open source alternatives allay those fears? Read More , you still would not be completely anonymous; all of these tools can be forced or subverted to track, should you become a “Person of Interest” to the authorities. While your activity would remain private, thanks to encryption, the fact that you were online, engaged in some form of exchange, would be recorded.


As Edward Snowden stated:

“…basic steps will encrypt your hardware and … your network communications [making] you…far, far more hardened than the average user – it becomes very difficult for any sort of a mass surveillance. You will still be vulnerable to targeted surveillance. If there is a warrant against you, if the NSA is after you, they are still going to get you.”

3. The “No Logging” Myth

VPNs vie for your attention and hard earned cashed by enticing you with the promise of not logging your activities. This “no logging” selling point is hugely attractive, but is, sadly a myth. Even with our selection of the best VPN services The Best VPN Services We've compiled a list of what we consider to be the best Virtual Private Network (VPN) service providers, grouped by premium, free, and torrent-friendly. Read More .

Let’s set this straight now: you cannot run a server without logs. Without logs, a VPN provider would be unable to handle DNS requests, prevent abuse, troubleshoot connections, or limit VPN accounts based on the subscription type you’ve chosen, such as putting a cap on the amount of data you can use.


With many occurrences of VPNs advertising a “no logging” service subsequently handing data over to law enforcement agencies, it should be quite obvious that “no logging” either doesn’t mean what you think it does, or has become a de facto advertising term in the VPN sector that we should more or less ignore. Those VPNs that don’t require a sign-up and can only share the information that they collect? They’re low quality, unreliable services that often make browsing the web privately less fun than a dental operation.

Concerned about your VPN’s use of logs? Find a reference on their website that shows exactly what information they do retain, and use this to make a decision as to whether the service is for you. If the VPN doesn’t provide any information as to how they handle logging and what information is retained, it’s time to move on.

4. Check the Privacy Policy

Information about logging will typically be found on the VPN’s Privacy Policy page, but that’s not the only reason to check the policy. Very often, marketing information starkly conflicts with the minutiae.



In almost every case, your IP address, username, operating system, and times of connection and disconnection from the service are the very minimum that is collected by the VPN’s logging system. Doesn’t sound particularly anonymous, does it? So much information can be gleaned You Are The Product, Not The Client: The Personal Data Economy Explained As Andrew Lewis once said "If you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold". Think about the implications of that quote for a moment – how many free services... Read More from this skeletal collection of facts.

5. Rented Cloud Servers Necessitate the Use of Logging

There are, it seems, two types of VPN: those that use their own servers, and those that rely on cloud solutions. As we’ve already seen, it is very difficult to run a server without using logs, and even tougher to run any subscription-based online account — if not impossible.


With the vast majority of VPN providers using third party servers, it is virtually impossible for these services to run without logs being collected. While the VPNs themselves might not be creating logs, the servers they are renting do, by design of the hosting providers.

Here’s a great example: the EarthVPN customer who used the supposedly anonymous service to make a bomb threat. He was apprehended after Dutch police obtained a court order to seize the server from a third party datacenter, where they found the person’s IP address logged (no doubt as part of the datacenter’s strategy to combat DDOS attacks).

The Surprising Shortcomings of VPNs

Whether you’re using a VPN to do some secure online shopping from the comfort of a comfy chair and latte in your local café, or attempting to avoid detection of your torrenting activity, the fact remains that no VPN service is as secure as you believe it is. For an added sense of security, you might look into using a VPN kill switch.

Here’s another important point to remember: VPNs can be hacked. Learn what that means for your privacy.

Image Credits: Undercover agents by Phovoir via Shutterstock, arka38 via, via, Dmitry Kalinovsky via

Related topics: Online Privacy, Online Security, Private Browsing, VPN.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Jack
    October 27, 2017 at 5:30 am

    Great write-up, I’m regular visitor of one’s website, maintain up the excellent operate, and It is going to be a regular visitor for a lengthy time.

  2. Erik
    January 20, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    Your rationale is totally nutz!
    It's like saying don't bother tying your shoe laces to avoid tripping over them and injuring yourself, because there might also be a small pothole that you walk into and it causes you to twist your ankle!
    Use a VPN, use AdBlock Plus, use Ghostery, use HTTP Everywhere ...

  3. Fah q
    December 13, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Ugghhh. Ignorance. At its finest.
    If you read the article clearly, or know wtf you're talking about... The article states being tracked down by collecting data from a third party server. Or the VPN in question being subpoenaed for the data ( which like one user pointed out, would be a USA oriented VPN with US jurisdiction. To get around this, you need to use a VPN service that is not in operation with the US or UK jurisdiction, and in a country that has no anti piracy laws.

  4. Mooty
    October 24, 2016 at 8:01 am

    Well that was scary. I've recently signed up with a wireless internet provider, and let me tell you I never would have thought that there were so many legal ramifications to simply browsing the internet. The fourteenth page disclaimer that I was forced to agree to before my service would be turned on made me half think of all the citizens of Nazi Germany and Hitler's regime. After all when using the internet we are basically just looking at something that already exists somewhere in cyberspace. Nobody really knows where. Similarly if you download something it just because you want to look at it later or watch/listen to, in case of movie/song respectively. So if you happen to look at something that is illegal that can't possibly come back on you. Like if you are out browsing and say an illegaly obtained photo comes on screen the police couldn't just come and arrest you for it just for seeing it. Or say you just happen to download all 635 episodes of Gunsmoke, the first of which aired September 10th, 1955, the Gestapo arrive and haul you off to the gas chambers. You only wanted to watch them later maybe away on a family vacation away from wi-fi or other similar service with your kids because your campfire was rained out. WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO IMPLEMENT THIS TYPE OF POLICING OR TO SCARE AN ENTIRE NATION OR GROUP THEREOF THAT THEY ARE OUT THERE MONITORING ALL OF US? I hope that they can see me right now!

    • Dave
      January 28, 2018 at 8:58 am

      Great thoughts!

  5. Anonymous
    April 19, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    Here is Torrent Freak's recently published 2016 review of VPN privacy policies.

    They do a fresh list every year about this time or earlier.

  6. J. Anthony Carter
    April 19, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    I've been using TOR for quite a while and with the added safety (?) of a VPN I do feel better about being online. Thing is I live in a country where freedom, privacy and liberty are no longer, if they've ever actually been, part and parcel with being a citizen of the USA. Our "government" has long ago exceeded it's authority and has no scruple against ignoring and defiling the Constitution of the United States of America. I am a little safer from your average online hacker though

  7. DC
    April 19, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    Even a cheap VPN is better than no VPN. If you use any sort of public hot spot (coffee shop, hotel wifi, mall/store wifi, etc.) the data you send and receive can be visible by someone else on that network. If you use a VPN (a free or cheap one), then that data is encrypted and it makes it more difficult for someone on that network to see your data going across the lines. While no, it is not perfect, it's another layer of security.

    Usually the ones that are complaining about logging, data retention, etc. are the ones that are doing something wrong or illegal as they don't want to be caught. If you're not doing anything wrong or illegal, then you probably have little to nothing to worry about.

    IMO... The govt. (in any country, not just the US) will already have access, or will find a way to get access to your data if they they have probable cause.

  8. Anonymous
    April 19, 2016 at 6:37 am

    Well I am glad to have you post this article. You may now ask why I am glad, the reason is I signed up for the TOP recommended VPN service that Make Use Of suggested. Based on if the information in the article is true and if so then all of the rest of what this website Make Use Of is also suspect! Thanks for pointing this out to me as now I know that most likely most of Make Use Of articles are nothing but a veiled marketing agreement between you and the products and services that you are claiming to be HONESTLY reviewing. Thanks for opening my eyes to the FACT that Make Use Of for the most part is nothing more than a collection of BS artists and should not be trusted! I for one have removed all links that I have had to your website and I have no intention of ever returning to read and be affected by your BS! In my opinion Make Us Of has a 0% credibility score.

    • Christian Cawley
      April 19, 2016 at 7:06 am

      Hi Robert - you're naturally able to choose whatever you read on any site, and whether you believe it or not is entirely up to you.

      But if you want to talk about "credibility", try this: reliable information about just how private VPNs are has only come along in the past few months. Conversely, our list of top VPNs is 18 months old. Additionally, when we publish sponsored reviews, we make quite clear that the review is sponsored.

      I suggest you do the maths. Also, have a think about questioning the integrity of 30 (or so) people you've never met.

      • Drew
        July 11, 2017 at 7:08 pm

        I call shenanigans. Robert has a valid point--MUO often posts two completely contradictory articles and advertises them in the same damn email. The one that really stood out for me from a few weeks ago was the email where a link to an article titled "This is why you should stop using Google search" (the content attacked the lack of privacy native to Google) was followed by a link to an article titled "You should be using the Google home app and here's why" (with no concerns about lack of privacy). Which is it? Should I fear the Evil Empire that is taking over, or welcome our new Robot Overlords??

        Additionally, you claim that "reliable information about just how private VPNs are has only come along in the past few months." Again, shenanigans. Quite frankly, simply understanding how a) a server works, and b) a VPN works, allows one to engage in a simple thought experiment and quickly identify a number of potential weaknesses to VPN's that limit their privacy, due to limitations in the technology. I'm surprised you didn't even mention DNS leaks as a potential limitation. But most damningly, TorrentFreak has been publishing their annual assessment of VPN privacy *for many years now*. Not 18 months. They analyze the privacy policies of each, and then send a specific list of privacy-related questions to various VPN providers and publish the answers openly. It's about as good an analysis as you can possibly do without actually visiting the datacenters and inspecting the servers for yourself.

        So before you get all snitty with Robert, perhaps *you* should "do the maths". In terms of my personal estimate of MUO's credibility/reliability, where 0% is not at all and 100% is absolutely, MUO comes in around 60% at best. Robert may have been an idiot for running out to purchase a service you highly recommended without doing further research (and Robert, please know that I'm not saying you are, or didn't do the research as I simply don't know, I'm just granting that Chrisitan appears to be calling you an idiot which may or may not be true), but he's not wrong in pointing out the repeated inconsistency of MUO's advice.

  9. Suresh
    April 19, 2016 at 3:57 am

    Altyhough, the article is very interesting,I was confused by the title.
    Pl change to 5 reasons why VPN is not .......

  10. zeira
    April 17, 2016 at 3:50 am

    "the fact remains that no VPN service is as secure as you believe it is.”

    Does the writer of this article says VPN is less secure than no VPN?

    Having VPN gives some security, compared with not having VPN.
    That’s what the quote above implies.
    So . . . “With a VPN you are never worse”, let’s continue: than without a VPN.

    Also, please read carefully the title of the article.

    If you have difficulty understanding that it’s your and not my problem.

    • Christian Cawley
      April 17, 2016 at 6:42 am

      '“the fact remains that no VPN service is as secure as you believe it is.”

      Does the writer of this article says VPN is less secure than no VPN?'

      No. The writer says that there is not a VPN service that is as secure as you believe it is.

  11. Anne Vasquez
    April 16, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    Your credibility is very low when you reference your best VPN list, which was “Last updated: December 1, 2014”. This list includes U.S. based services, which are accessible to the NSA, etc. via National Security Letters

    • Drew
      July 11, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      Actually, many VPN providers will argue that being based in the US is actually protective from a privacy standpoint, as there are many countries with mandatory data retention laws that don't exist here. However, I think it makes more sense to go with one in a country not subject to US law, AND that doesn't have data retention laws.

  12. Anonymous
    April 16, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    If VPNs are not secure, then of what use are they?

    Somewhat secure VPNs are worse than useless, they are dangerous. You never know what part of your ass is not covered.

  13. Anonymous
    April 16, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    I have a VPN, I paid a one time $39 for a 99 year’s lease, which is pretty good.
    Whatever little thing this VPN does, it’s worth the 39 cents per year price.

    • Anonymous
      April 16, 2016 at 7:47 pm

      " it’s worth the 39 cents per year price."
      You have that right! Where else can you get all the info about you revealed for ONLY 39 cents/year?! :-)

      • zeira
        April 16, 2016 at 8:20 pm

        With a VPN you are never worse only you may be a bit better, you smart hothead.

        • Anonymous
          April 16, 2016 at 11:43 pm

          "With a VPN you are never worse"
          Worse than what? Without a VPN, you know you are exposed and you can act accordingly. With a VPN you are uncertain when you are or are not exposed. I supposed the solution is to act as if there was no VPN but then why pay for one?