Some VPNs take your data for a milk run, VPN

Some VPNs take your data for a milk run

Milk is milk and VPNs are VPNs, right? Apart from the whole and low-fat options, there really is not much between the milk brands staring at you from the store shelves. And with a VPN (or Virtual Private Network) there really can’t be much difference beyond server location, connection speed, and download capacity, right?

After all, these guys are just shielding your messages from spying eyes and letting you access new places from your virtual location. Sounds like what economists call a perfect substitute, where one product can replace another.

Worse than skimmed milk

So just drink the marketing and may the best advertisement win. Right?  Wrong, very wrong. Researchers from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the University of New South Wales, and the University of California, Berkeley took a deep look at 283 VPN apps for Android-powered smartphones. They found a huge number of these security products actually degraded the users’ privacy and security.

Here are some mind-boggling numbers from their report:

  • 84% of the 283 tested apps leak user traffic.
  • 38% of the VPNs added malware or adware onto user’s smartphones.
  • 18% of the apps fail to encrypt users’ web traffic.
  • Less than 1 percent of users had any security or privacy concerns about these apps.

In a nutshell, many of these companies do an extremely poor job of the core VPN activities such as hiding and encrypting users’ online activities. While some VPN providers use their web traffic analysis to block advertisements from reaching the end user (potentially a helpful thing), it was far more common for VPN providers to misuse this supposedly private information to send users targeted advertisements and even malware.

Some VPNs take your data for a milk run - in-post

Avira takes a whole milk approach

We’ve billed Phantom VPN as a full-flavored VPN that enhances user security and privacy – and we mean it. Since the Avira Phantom VPN was not included in this report, we went to our techies to double-check the position of the Phantom VPN in regards to advertisements and user tracking. Here is a summary of our findings:

  • Do we display ads? No
  • Do we block foreign ads? No.
  • Do we track users? Yes, but only for data needed to better manage Phantom’s operation.

Let me explain what Phantom VPN does and does not track – and why

This is what the Avira Phantom VPN does not track:

  • Visited websites
  • Your real IP address
  • Your virtual locations (IP addresses) used while surfing
  • Any information that can link you to a specific action, such as downloading a file or visiting a particular website.

What Phantom VPN does track is minimal and has a very clear functional purpose:

  • Diagnostic data – This helps us improve the product (e.g. if a user encounters a bug).
  • Distinguishes between free or paid users – This helps us fine-tune our user communication.
  • Measures amount of data consumed – This enables us to control the costs of providing our VPN infrastructure – and continue providing Phantom VPN free of charge.

No spilt milk to cry over

The joint report showed that VPNs have more than a technical issue. They also have a communication issue as less than one percent of VPN app reviewers raised any security or privacy concerns. It shows that consumers are simply not distinguishing between the benefits of a full-flavored VPN and a stripped down proxy VPN that only forwards users around geo-restrictions with no encryption and security benefits.

And for our part, the report is another time to demonstrate that the Phantom VPN is not a skimmed-milk VPN proxy but is a security and privacy enhancer that actually provides a real measurable service.

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As a PR Consultant and journalist, Frink has covered IT security issues for a number of security software firms, as well as provided reviews and insight on the beer and automotive industries (but usually not at the same time). Otherwise, he’s known for making a great bowl of popcorn and extraordinary messes in a kitchen.