Do VPNs Leak Private Data to Third Parties?

VPNs are considered to be the Fort Knox of the online world by many. VPNs keep your online data private, anonymous, and secure. They also prevent intruders from intercepting your network, tracking your activity, and stealing your private information. When VPNs do what they claim to, they are powerful tools that can help you curb snoopers and secure your online activity. When using a VPN network, your computer may belong to you, but the exit node of the connection belongs to the VPN provider. So, even if your computer system is secure, you are exposed to risk when using a VPN network with an insecure VPN provider. The most important question that probes the credibility of VPN providers is; Do VPNs leak private data to third parties? Let’s find out.

Do VPNs Leak Private Data to Third Parties

Do VPNs Leak Private Data to Third Parties

But Wait – Some Facts to Kick it Off

Doubting a VPN’s true allegiance is pretty common, especially with the rise of several malicious VPN applications. But before we proceed with the question of whether a VPN is leaking your private data to third parties, consider these facts:

  • US government’s CISA has mentioned that many VPN applications insecurely store session cookies
  • Nowadays, Apple and Google are allowing numerous free VPN apps to seep into their app stores. People are slowly recognizing the benefits of using a VPN. However, this has given rise to a vast number of counterfeit VPNs, which actually are potential snoopers.
  • Despite the strict VPN ban on China, 60% of the most popular VPN apps are Chinese-owned.
  • 77% of VPN apps that were flagged to be unsafe according to a study in 2018 continue to remain available for download.
  • In June 2019, Apple updated the rules governing all iOS apps. It prohibited VPN services from sharing data to third party applications. According to Apple: “Apps offering VPN services may not sell, use, or disclose to third parties any data for any purpose, and must commit to this in their privacy policy.” However, 80% of the top 20 most used iOS VPN breach the new rules but remain available for download. 
  • 74% of the 150 most downloaded VPN apps of Google Play pose a risk to anyone that uses them. 
  • 54% of these apps have intrusive permissions. 
  • 21% of these apps tested positive for malware or viruses.

The facts mentioned above paint a clear picture of how VPN services promise to secure your activities on the internet, but in return, can potentially leak your private data to the highest bidders.

Bad VPNs? How Do We Know?

Virtual Private Networks should make online browsing a lot easier for users, not the other way around. A credible VPN provider is an excellent way to secure your data, whether you’re at home or using a public network.

The fact is, you can’t trust any VPN you stumble upon. How private do you think your activity is? How do you know if the VPN you ended up with is doing its job? Are you unwittingly leaking information to third parties? All possible.

So, if you don’t know how to separate the good apples from the bad ones, here’s what a bad VPN service provider does:

Logs your activity

Any VPN service provider that records your activity is a big No-No. When choosing a VPN, read the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy carefully. A good VPN service provider should have an absolute no-logging policy so that it cannot snoop on your activity and sell the details of your internet activity to hungry third-party applications, advertising agencies, or intelligence agencies.

You see, free VPNs are the perfect example for providers that sell customers’ data — operating several servers around the world cost a lot of money. How do you think they pay for those servers if they don’t ask for anything in return? They’re not making revenue, or are they?

“You become their main source of income.”

Even premium VPNs claim that they don’t collect user data, but as it turns out, they do. Although it can be stated on their website, a malicious VPN provider would claim so as well. Do your research. Take HideMyAss, for example; it’s one of the top VPN providers in the industry. However, a while ago, the service submitted potentially incriminating data to the feds in response to a court order.

Has poor security

Using a poorly secured VPN service is worse than using no VPN at all. A VPN service provider that uses weak encryption algorithms and VPN protocols expose you to danger. A counterfeit VPN service provider faces DNS leaks, IP leaks, low speeds, and connectivity issues regularly. 

If the security is not well-optimized, the damage could literally be lethal. Why? Well, because users are operating on a piece of software that requires access to the Internet and acts as a gateway to highly sensitive parts of an organization’s or person’s information.

Many free and mobile VPNs on the market use unsafe protocols and log user activity, so be careful which VPN you choose to put your trust in. As for security protocols, make sure that the VPN you’re using offers at least OpenVPN.

Has Bad User Feedback

The low ratings and bad user reviews of VPN applications are big red flags that indicate that these apps should not be used. Do VPNs leak private data to third party applications? Yes, several VPNs intentionally leak private data to third-party applications, and this can be backed up by facts.

On the other hand, a lot of VPNs are strict with their no-logging policies. However, if they are built using vulnerable, open-source VPN libraries, there is a possibility that they might be hacked, thus leaking your private data to external stakeholders unintentionally. Some unintentional leaks that can compromise your security are DNS leaks and WebRTC leaks.

So, before you pick a VPN companion, check what other people are saying based on previous experience. They come in handy most of the time. A user won’t take the time just to trash a VPN service. If they haven’t encountered a problem while using this provider, they wouldn’t be posting bad reviews about it.

DNS and WebRTC Leaks

Whenever you subscribe to an internet service, your ISP assigns DNS servers automatically. That means that whenever you send a request to a server, your ISP will be able to monitor everything. On the other hand, when you use a VPN, your requests are directed to an anonymous DNS server through your VPN.

A DNS leak is exactly what it sounds like. It is a security flaw that allows your DNS requests to be leaked to ISP DNS servers, despite using a VPN service. If your DNS requests are leaked, your ISP can easily track your browsing habits and the apps you use.

You can use DNS leak tests to check if your VPN is working as expected. Premium VPNs offer such a feature, so if you subscribe to one, you’re in good hands.

Furthermore, there’s another leak that you might know of as it’s embedded way deep in your browser – leaking your public IP address while you’re in the dark. It’s called Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) leak, which is a security flaw that leaks your real IP address despite using a VPN service.

If your IP address is leaked, the government, your ISP provider, or cybercriminals can easily exploit your sensitive data. A WebRTC leak essentially defeats the purpose of using a VPN. You can use WebRTC leak tests to check if your VPN is working as expected.

A credible VPN can avoid this issue from happening, and so can you. If the VPN you’re using is leaking WebRTC, you can switch it off manually depending on the browser you’re using. I’ve given you the solution in the link for WebRTC leak tests, make use of that if anything occurs with you.

Final Thoughts

While the gory facts remain, VPNs still are essential to staying secure on the internet. Using the right VPN service provider is safer than accessing the internet without one. Keep in mind that paid VPNs are indeed far better than free ones. Free VPNs do provide you their services for free but compromise your data in return by logging your activity, deploying low-level encryption protocols, or by selling your data to third parties. And you do have to wonder, given that VPN infrastructure is expensive, how do free VPNs make money?

Paid VPNs however, have better encryption mechanisms and are strict when it comes to user security. In conclusion, VPNs are worth paying for, and the prices are not too extravagant in comparison to your privacy. Experts hence believe that you should choose a paid VPN provider, and read their Terms of Service, Privacy Policy and user ratings carefully before choosing one. Did this article help you out with what you were looking for? Let me know in the comments below.

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