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Government Surveillance, Privacy & Data

Helping Consumers Choose a Trustworthy VPN

As internet users strive to take more control of their online security and privacy, VPNs, or virtual private networks, have skyrocketed in popularity. At their best, these tools mask your online browsing and traffic from outside eyes, such as government entities, malicious actors, and advertisers. But not all VPNs are equal, and many free services share the information they are supposed to keep private with third parties for profit. With hundreds of VPNs available through the major app stores, how can consumers know which ones are trustworthy?

The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) has launched an initiative aimed at helping consumers better understand VPNs and assess their trustworthiness. CDT developed a series of questions and recommendations for VPN providers that, when addressed completely, serve as a strong signal that the VPN can be trusted with your personal browsing information and web traffic. The framework was developed in consultation with a number of leading VPN providers, many of which proactively answered CDT’s questions, providing greater transparency about their data practices. Answers from ExpressVPN, IVPN, Mullvad, TunnelBear, and VyprVPN are all on CDT’s website.

“Trust is a critical component whenever we place our information in the hands of different apps, services, and platforms. Trust is doubly important when we are explicitly relying on companies to protect our privacy and security. By bringing more transparency to key business practices of VPNs, we’re hoping that consumers will be better able to assess which ones are trustworthy, and which ones might be making promises they don’t plan to keep,” said Joseph Jerome, CDT Privacy & Data Policy Counsel.

The questions CDT believes all VPNs should answer address corporate accountability and business models; data logging, collection, and retention practices; and data security measures, including security auditing.

Already, additional VPN providers have reached out to take part in this trustworthiness initiative. We’re grateful for their interest, and encourage other VPN providers interested in participating to reach out to CDT’s Joseph Jerome at [email protected].

The following are statements from the VPN providers already engaged in the initiative:

“With cyberattacks and hacks, government surveillance, and big data mining all on the rise, more and more internet users are relying on VPNs to protect their privacy and security. It’s crucial that they’re able to identify a VPN that they can trust. That’s why we’re proud to work with CDT to launch this important initiative to raise standards across the industry and ensure consumers have the information and guidance needed to evaluate whom they can trust. Think of it as a nutrition label for VPNs, providing a baseline set of facts you can compare across various services, helping everyone choose the right VPN for their privacy and security.” ~ Harold Li, Vice President, ExpressVPN

“We believe strongly in encryption, the right to privacy, and a free and open internet. But unfortunately, as the VPN market has matured, we have seen new VPN providers enter the market promising users privacy or anonymity but delivering quite the opposite. As one of the oldest VPN providers in the world, we had grave concerns that the predatory practices of VPN providers would erode trust in VPNs as a privacy tool. That’s why we approached our longtime partner CDT to help spearhead a collaborative effort to help consumers make more educated decisions when choosing a VPN provider. We hope these new questions create more trust so consumers can continue to rely on VPN services to protect them.” ~ Sunday Yokubaitis, CEO, Golden Frog

“As a privacy VPN, earning our customers’ trust has always been our highest priority. Transparency is a precursor to trust, and therefore being open and honest is one of our core values. We are proud to be part of the core group who created this initiative to help consumers ask providers the right questions and hold those providers accountable to their answers. We’d like to thank CDT for their role in facilitating this initiative and advancing a more trustworthy industry.” ~ Nicholas Pestell, CEO, IVPN

“Privacy is fundamental to a well-functioning society; its absence leads to a repressed and withering public discourse, which only serves the malevolent. Privacy relies on the trustworthiness of our digital systems, which is facilitated by security and transparency. When we can’t trust people in power and their institutions, we need to be able to trust the tools we use for protection against them. We aim to offer the transparency and accountability that others fail to provide.” ~ Daniel Berntsson, Founder, Mullvad

“Protecting our customers’ privacy has always been our top priority at TunnelBear. Until now, it’s been difficult for customers to easily understand whether or not they can trust a VPN provider. CDT’s initiative has helped to establish a framework for trust in the VPN space. We hope that all providers will participate and that it will help to bring a higher level of transparency to the industry as a whole.” ~ Ryan Dochuk, CEO, TunnelBear