While you would usually use a VPN to increase your privacy while browsing online, untrustworthy VPNs achieve exactly the opposite.
In fact, there’s no shortage of VPN providers who mislead clients or engage in deceptive practices to fool their customers. When considering a VPN service, look out for these five tactics that untrustworthy VPNs use to trick potential customers…
Why Would a VPN Try to Trick You?
You may wonder why a VPN provider would try to trick you in the first place. This is often to simply increase sales and profit. But some companies also use deceptive practices to establish trust when the company doesn’t really concern itself with protecting your privacy.
In the past, multiple VPNs have been caught selling user data to third parties to make money. Some VPNs also use your data for advertising other products and services.
Other times, a VPN may use buzzwords and marketing jargon to make the product seem more secure than it is. The problem is so widespread that the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) worked with a variety of VPNs to develop questions a trustworthy VPN should be able to answer for consumers.
We spoke with one of the CDT’s partners in the project, Golden Frog (the company behind VyprVPN), to discuss some of the ways certain players in the VPN industry try to trick consumers.
1. Undisclosed Affiliate Reviews and Sites
Even when you try to do your research and read VPN reviews, you may have trouble sorting legitimate feedback from biased affiliate content.
Many VPN companies use SEO strategies to push negative stories and reviews further down the search engine results. But worse still, some providers even own undisclosed affiliate review sites. These sites pretend to be independent but are actually just glorified company blogs that push a certain product.
“A few top VPN providers have been known to run ‘3rd party’ review sites, which tend to praise a single provider over the competition across the board. Brands can create a positive image with doctored reviews and testimonials,” Golden Frog CEO Sunday Yokubaitis says.
When reading a review site, look out for signs that the site may unreasonably favor one VPN provider over others. Trustworthy review sites will always disclose affiliate links and posts.
When doing your research, make sure to check news websites and forums for any scandals or negative reports on a VPN provider. Reddit is also a good tool for checking up on VPN experiences—just look out for fake users promoting products.
2. Not Identifying Parent and Partner Companies
The parent company of a VPN is an incredibly relevant piece of information for consumers. If a VPN’s parent company aggregates data for commercial use, for example, they may share and sell data from their VPN subsidiary. Sometimes, a parent company may also own advertising companies or other businesses that would benefit from sharing consumer data.
Furthermore, consumers need to know which major partners work with the VPN service to provide their product, the CDT notes. For example, you wouldn’t want a company known for IP leaks to be in charge of your VPN’s servers.
Trustworthy VPNs will not hide this information from you. However, dodgy VPNs will make this information difficult to find.
3. Unclear Revenue Models
When a VPN company is not upfront about the way it makes money, this is a major red flag. On the internet, if something is free it usually means your data is the product. Companies like Facebook illustrate this point perfectly. This is one of the reasons free VPNs aren’t recommended.
Untrustworthy VPNs often don’t provide clear information about their revenue model. Sometimes they bury these details in lengthy privacy policies, or they simply don’t make it available at all.
For your security, you want a VPN provider that mostly or completely makes its money off the subscriptions to its service. Otherwise, you may find that your VPN sells data to third-parties to make money. Or, as was the case with Hola VPN, the service may even sell your bandwidth to botnets.
As the CDT notes, if all or more of the VPN’s revenue comes from subscriptions, this suggests that the users are the company’s actual customers, rather than its product.
4. Unverified Claims of Being Logless
The term “logless” is a popular buzzword in VPN marketing, since many people feel more secure with services that don’t keep logs of their activities. Some companies exaggerate exactly how few logs they keep. But some VPN services outright lie about keeping logs—claiming to be logless when they aren’t
Golden Frog CEO Sunday Yokubaitis says that you should verify whether a VPN provider is actually logless by checking with an independent body that can verify this.
“If a VPN does claim to be logless, you should ensure that has been verified by an independent third party validator, and not just an affiliate publication.”
5. Fake Server Locations
Some untrustworthy VPN providers use fake virtual servers to trick consumers. They usually do this so that it seems like they have a larger network of servers and a wide variety of locations. This tactic often makes the product more appealing to potential customers.
However, fake server locations impact user experience and affect your ping. Furthermore, fake servers can affect user privacy.
You should always check whether your potential VPN provider has been caught using fake server locations.
Other Questions You Should Ask Your VPN
When shopping for a VPN provider, make sure to steer clear of manipulative tactics that try to trick you into buying a product.
A few other questions you should ask about a potential VPN service before subscribing include:
- If they keep logs, are they transparent about what is being logged, why it’s logged, and for what duration?
- How do they handle legal requests for information?
- Do third parties control or handle any of the VPNs functions?
These important questions will help you avoid nasty surprises in future.
Understand More About VPN Services
If you want to use a VPN to enhance your online privacy, you need to understand the different features of the service and what they can achieve. This is why it’s important to stick with a trusted VPN service, such as ExpressVPN or CyberGhost.
Should you find yourself a bit unclear on the meaning of different VPN jargon, check out our guide on VPN terminology for a better understanding.
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