How some VPNs make you more anonymous than others

Many people assume that all VPNs can keep them completely safe and anonymous online. This is something of a myth, but one that is often propagated by less responsible VPNs in order to sell subscriptions.

The truth is that all VPNs are different, which is why it is so important to do your research before signing up for one, as no lesser body that the US FTC has recently advised.

This has been reemphasised recently in the experience of one VPN user from Australia in a case reported by ABC’s Hack programme.

The case of Rachel

The user in question was named as Rachel and she was downloading a pirated copy of a TV show. This activity is, of course, illegal and not something we endorse here at, but we are aware that some VPN users do use the service for this purpose.

However, Rachel then checked her inbox and found that she had received a copyright infringement notice by email. A copyright infringement notice is a legal letter from the lawyers of the copyright holder warning her against downloading their intellectual property illegally.

Rachel’s reaction was the same as many VPN users would likely be. She told Hack, “I was quite worried… I just really was not prepared for the fact that this could happen… My understanding was a VPN meant you could go about your business online and not be tracked.”

A VPN does help to stop outside eyes from seeing what you are up to online by encrypting your online data and redirecting it through one of their servers to hide your IP Address. However, the VPN Provider itself is still capable of seeing what you are doing online if it chooses to.

What happened and the role of VyprVPN

Rachel was a customer of VyprVPN. They are a dependable VPN, but they have always been upfront about the fact that they do retain connection logs when people are using their service.

The data they retain includes the users own IP Address, the VyprVPN IP Address they are connected to, how much data they used when connected, and when their connection began and ended.

In Rachel’s case, the copyright infringement notice had been sent to VyprVPN by the copyright holder. But with the data they hold, they were able to work out who had downloaded the show and forward the notice on to her.

In a sense, this is a relief for Rachel. It means the copyright holder does not actually have her information or know that it was her who downloaded the show. However, if required to do so, VyprVPN may well hand that information over in future.

VyprVPN defended their actions in this case to Hack. “Unfortunately, there remains tremendous confusion in the VPN industry about what logging means and how providers deal with the data they do log,” a spokesperson said.

“We take a different approach and don’t advertise or promise that VyprVPN makes you anonymous on the Internet. We have spent time trying to dispel this myth that you can be anonymous on the Internet…”

The VyprVPN anomaly

In a sense, what VyprVPN is correct. Rather than guaranteeing their online anonymity when using a VPN, customers are putting their faith in their VPN provider to keep them secure and private online.

VyprVPN has long been clear about where it draws the line on this. They are upfront about the fact that they do retain connection logs and that they hold this data for 30 days. They stress that they do not keep data on the specific sites you visit while connected to their service.

They are not the only VPN which keeps connection logs. But the 30-day retention period is one of the longest periods we have encountered for this data to be retained.

But there are plenty of VPNs that do not keep any connection data or logs at all. Providers like IPVanish, ExpressVPN and NordVPN keep absolutely no user data at all. They would not be able to forward a copyright infringement notice to a customer because they simply don’t hold the data to work out who the user was.

So, while it is not possible to say that a VPN can make you completely anonymous online, choosing a trustworthy VPN provider who offers a zero user log guarantee is about as close as you can get.

VyprVPN is not the best provider for this. But there are plenty of other VPNs who do offer the service and would have saved Rachel from what was no doubt a scary situation.

They wouldn’t have spoiled her TV show either, which Rachel told Hack she probably wasn’t going to watch now.

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