A new independent initiative intended to ensure that VPN providers offer a minimum level of service to their customers has been launched.
The VPN Trust Seal accreditation is the brainchild of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition, which back in 2020 launched the VPN Trust Initiative (VTI). This programme was designed to establish a baseline for how VPN providers should operate.
The VPN Trust Seal is an accreditation programme which indicates to users which VPNs are compliant with these baseline requirements.
What is the i2 Coaltion?
The body behind the VPN Trust Seal is known as the Internet Infrastructure Coalition or i2 Coalition for short.
The i2 Coalition is a coalition of web hosting companies, data centres, domain registrars and registries, cloud infrastructure providers, managed services providers, and related tech companies which have come together to ensure that these bodies have a voice in public policy and in the future of the internet and online technologies.
It was first formed back in 2011 to campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) from becoming United States law. After successfully campaigning in favour of online freedom and the flow of information and commerce on the internet, the i2 Coalition formalised as a trade association to provide a voice for the entire industry.
What is the VPN Trust Initiative (VTI)
The VPN Trust Initiative (VTI) came about in 2020 as a means to promote consumer safety and privacy online by increasing understanding of VPNs and how they handle user data.
It is widely known that there is no shortage of rogue traders in the VPN world, especially in the free VPN market, and a lot of customers are signing up for VPNs without wading through the reams of small print that indicate what that VPN is actually doing with their data.
The VPN Trust Initiative (VTI) was designed to address that problem and leverage industry knowledge to advocate, create, vet, and validate guidelines that strengthen trust and transparency and mitigate risk for VPN users around the world.
The VPN Trust Seal, which has been launched this week, is a natural endpoint for that work.
What is the VPN Trust Seal?
The VPN Trust Seal is an accreditation programme that can tell VPN users if their VPN provider is adhering to the basic industry standards outlined by the VPN Trust Initiative.
It establishes best practices for delivering VPN services across five key areas, which are worth detailing in full:
- Security: Accredited VPNs will use robust security measures, including strong encryption and authentication protocols.
- Advertising Practices: Accredited VPNs will advertise responsibly and not make misleading claims.
- Privacy: Accredited VPNs will retain little data as necessary to deliver their service and will only hand user data to law enforcement when legally required to do so.
- Disclosure and Transparency: Accredited VPNs will take every possible step to inform users and the public about their actions and procedures.
- Social Responsibility: Accredited VPN providers will promote VPN technology to support access to the global internet and freedom of expression.
These five core principles have been reached in consultation with a whole range of stakeholders, including policymakers, free speech campaigners, internet industry insiders, and the VPN companies themselves.
Explaining the scheme, Co-Founder & Executive Director of the i2 Coalition, Christian Dawson said, “Now when VPN customers try to determine which providers align with their ethics, they can look for the VPN Trust Seal and gain some assurances about the commitments behind the products they are looking to purchase.”
The i2 Coalition has also announced the inaugural group of VPN providers that have earned accreditation under the VPN Trust Seal Accreditation scheme. The list includes NordVPN, Certida, FastVPN, IvacyVPN, PureVPN, Surfshark, Texas.net, IPVanish, StrongVPN, eVenture Ltd, and ExpressVPN.
It is an interesting list for a number of reasons that perhaps tell us more about the VPN Trust Seal Accreditation Programme than those behind it would like us to think.
Firstly, there are a few glaring omissions from the list. CyberGhost VPN is not there, for example. They have had some criticism over advertising practices in the past but have mended their ways in more recent times, and it seems odd not to see them there.
Perhaps even more telling are some of the names that do make the list.
PureVPN has a track record of handing over user data to law enforcement agencies, and there are other more questionable issues at hand.
One of the five “key areas” of VTI is that providers “Never claim VPNs guarantee anonymity”.
Yet a quick look at PureVPN’s website turns up a page titled “How to Browse the Web Anonymously” with no fewer than three claims including, “Surf Anonymously on the Web with PureVPN”, “Anonymous Browsing in 3 Simple Steps”, “Anonymize Your Internet Browsing with PureVPN” just on that one page.
Ivacy VPN is another provider which in August had their signing certificate compromised and despite wide publicity have not addressed the issue via their blog or social media.
It would appear that providers can be part of the VTI without fulfilling the five basic principles and without it being policed could allow unsuspecting users to fall into a false sense of security.
The inclusion of providers that don’t live up to the key principles of the organisation seriously undermines this scheme, which, in theory, is one that we would wholeheartedly support here at VPNCompare.
Our advice to readers would be that if you see a VPN Trust Accreditation Scheme logo on a VPN provider’s website, that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t mean for certain that this VPN is as safe and secure as you might think it is.
You are still strongly advised to do your own research into a VPN provider and to look at the reviews on our website, where our expert team will give you a searingly honest assessment of how each VPN performs, not just against the five criteria used by this scheme, but by just about every criteria you can think of.