Many security experts recommend using a virtual private network, or VPN, for maximum privacy online.
Unfortunately, according to a new report, a shocking number of VPNs – including popular VPNs like Hotspot Shield – have been caught tracking users.
In many cases, these VPNs track users more aggressively than users would have been tracked by conventional websites if they hadn’t used a VPN. In other words, these tracking measures appear to defeat the purpose of a VPN.
The latest report comes from the Center for Democracy & Technology, a Washington, DC-based privacy group. That organization claims that one of the world’s most popular VPNs, Hotspot Shield, is engaging in deceptive business practices by tracking users.
The Federal Trade Commission is moving to investigate the claim.
For years, Hotspot Shield has maintained that they don’t collect or store user data. However, the Center for Democracy & Technology’s report tells a different story: they claim Hotspot Shield has been tracking user browsing activity, and then selling that information to specific advertising partners.
The information was uncovered in partnership with security researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. Researchers reverse-engineered the source code to find that the VPN uses “more than five different third-party tracking libraries.”
Don’t Use a Free VPN If You Want Maximum Privacy
Fortunately, this VPN tracking problem is easy to solve. Hotspot Shield is so popular because it’s a free VPN.
Like most free software available on the internet, Hotspot Shield needs to make money in some way or another. Based on the allegations mentioned above, they make money through targeted advertising.
The easiest way to avoid this problem is to pay a few dollars a month for a VPN. Sure, you may not want to pay $3 to $10 per month when products are available for free – but as you can see, free VPNs have a hidden cost. You’re sacrificing privacy.
If you care enough about privacy to install a VPN, then you probably care enough about privacy to pay a few dollars per month for a VPN.
Whether you’re using a free or premium VPN, you’re going to want to carefully read through the terms and conditions. Even some premium VPNs will admit to selling your information to advertisers. Be extra careful if you’re using a VPN that charges less than $5 per month for its services.
Ultimately, we don’t know for sure if Hotspot Shield is selling user information to advertisers. They’re just allegations at this point. However, if you want to avoid tracking, consider uninstalling the popular Android app and replacing it with a paid VPN service. Nobody likes to be tracked – especially when you’re browsing with a VPN under the premise of privacy.