VPN services, like IVPN, exist to protect the privacy of their customers. The focus of this mission is to stop ISP’s, governments or other potential adversaries snooping on your activities and using the information gathered for their benefit.
We believe this list should also include corporations that collect data on you through uninvited, unconsented and unknowable ways. The list starts with Facebook and Google, but does not end there; many services rely on revenue from targeting ads based on behavioral data harvested from your activities.
VPNs alone can’t make you completely invisible to all these threats; encrypting your traffic and masking your IP is just a part of the solution. There are two specific things a VPN provider could do, however, to fight this problem:
- Stop advertising through services that rely on data extraction and behavioral profiling as part of a surveillance economy.
- Stop using third party tools and trackers on their website and in their apps. This way feeding of data collection schemes is avoided by not passing on information about visitor activities to external actors.
If you are wondering how VPN companies are doing on this front, the short answer is: badly. At the time of publication of this post 18 of the 20 top VPN firms (selected by declared number of servers and website traffic data) advertise either on Facebook, Google or both. Also, 18 of the same 20 VPN providers have at least 1 third party tool or tracker active on their website, with the most notorious using more than 15.
We believe this isn’t right.
We don’t have any ads running on Facebook and stopped our limited campaigns in Google Ads. We don’t work with ad networks that target users based on their individual profiles. We have also removed every trace of the small number of third party tools and trackers we had on our website (Unbounce, Adobe Typekit).
IVPN is now a Tracking Free VPN provider. We call other privacy focused services to stop supporting surveillance economy businesses with advertising dollars and shared visitor data.
To check how your preferred VPN service is doing on this front, you can do the following:
- Install the Privacy Badger extension and visit their website to see how many trackers they use.
- Go to their Facebook page and visit “Info and Ads” section to check whether they run any ads in any countries.
- Go to SpyFu.com (free) or Ahrefs.com (paid), enter their website URL and check the “PPC” section to assess whether they run Google Search ads.
If you don’t like what you see, we suggest letting your provider know about that. The other choice is switching to one that is more concerned with protecting your privacy than furthering their business goals regardless of who they support in the process.