US-based ISP Verizon has launched its own VPN service, in a move which seems entirely at odds with its corporate stance on user privacy.
Their new service is called Safe Wi-Fi. It is only available for existing Verizon customers and will set them back $3.99 a month. However, this price does include up to ten simultaneous connections.
As well as what seems like a very reasonable price, Verizon is also offering all customers a 30-day free trial. All you have to do to download Safe Wi-Fi and give it a go is head to the Products and Devices section of your My Verizon app, or download it from your regular app store and enter your Verizon account details.
Why does Verizon want to operate a VPN?
But before you do that, it is well taking a step back and thinking about just why a company like Verizon might want to launch a VPN?
Firstly, it is worth noting that Verizon is targeting this app for use on public networks. It is widely acknowledged that most public Wi-Fi networks are extremely insecure and that no-one should divulge any personal information when using one unless they connect to a VPN first.
This is now established good practice and something that Verizon is wise to promote. But when you use a regular VPN, such as ExpressVPN, IPVanish, or NordVPN, you are keeping your data safe on public networks by encrypting it and rerouting it through an external server.
This stops hackers seeing what you are doing online, but it also stops your ISP being able too as well. And if you do already use a VPN on public networks, the likelihood is that you also use one when connecting to your own Wi-Fi or 4G connection too. And that is a problem for ISPs like Verizon.
User data is big business these days and all ISPs, including Verizon, make a great deal of money from selling their customer data. Recent changes to online privacy laws in the USA mean they do not even need permission from customers to do this.
However, that law change, coupled with the roll-back of net neutrality, which was spearheaded by former Verizon employee and current chair of the FCC, Ajit Pai, has caused many American’s to turn to VPNs over fears for their online privacy.
Throughout the entire net neutrality sage, Verizon has sided with the FCC and against privacy advocates, campaigning hard for regulations to be loosened to enable them to maximise their profits at the expense of user privacy.
It does, therefore, beg the question of why this ISP, with a long record of campaigning against online privacy, is now launching an online privacy tool. One possible answer is to consider where users place their trust when using a VPN.
A new tool to harvest user data?
When connecting to a VPN, you are hiding your online data from any outsiders by encrypting it and passing it through your VPN’s server. The only entity that is possibly able to see what you are doing online is your VPN provider.
Most independent VPNs, such as ExpressVPN, IPVanish, or NordVPN, have strong ‘no user logs’ policies. This means that they pledge to keep absolutely no record of what their people are doing on their networks.
For many, this has been tested in courts, with legal demands for user content being rebuffed on the grounds that the VPN provider simply isn’t in possession of the data.
However, Verizon does not appear to have made any such claim to keeping no user logs. And this does raise the possibility that they plan to use their Safe Wi-Fi service as a tool to monitor user activity online and collect data which they can sell.
They would not be the first big tech company to do this. Earlier this year, Facebook began pushing users towards its Onavo service, which it describes as a free VPN. When experts analysed Onavo, it because clear that actually, Onavo was harvesting up all of user’s online data and passing it back to Facebook.
Cynics might suggest that Verizon thought this was a good idea and have now launched their own service. Safe Wi-Fi is very new, so it will take analysts a few weeks to find out if this is, in fact, the case.
In the meantime, we would strongly advise users to avoid any VPN service being pushed by a company which, like Verizon, makes its money from selling user data. You would be much better going with a tried-and-tested provider with a long track record of online privacy and user satisfaction.
So, any Verizon customer thinking of giving Safe Wi-Fi would be well-advised to take a look at ExpressVPN, IPVanish, or NordVPN instead.