At the latest since the global espionage affair became known, VPN service providers are springing up like mushrooms. With false promises, they lure data protection-conscious users into overpriced tariffs that do not come close to fulfilling the advertised scope of services. If one believes the bold marketing slogans, VPN access (https://www.plural.mx/tecnologia/por-que-los-viajeros-deberian-usar-una-vpn/) supposedly protects against hackers who, for example, hijack online accounts through phishing attacks. Far more misleading and at the same time dangerous, however, are the advertising promises that assure users that they can surf the Internet “completely anonymously”. With all due respect, but that is complete nonsense.
Pitfalls on the Internet
If we transfer the definition of anonymity to the Internet, we quickly come up against possible limits:
The IP address of a connection can, for example, be used to identify a person.
If information or enquiries are transmitted unencrypted, findings can be derived from them which undermine anonymity.
VPN providers are aware of this problem and address it cleverly via their offers. And indeed, VPN technology kills two birds with one stone – at least at first glance:
Once the VPN tunnel has been established with the provider, all data packets are ideally routed to the provider via the VPN gateway. When a website is called up, the IP address is no longer visible, but the IP address of the VPN provider, which is the intermediate station. Never surf without a VPN in public Wifi, read also http://www.redpres.com/t34779-navegar-de-forma-segura-en-una-red-publica-de-wi-fi.
Depending on the VPN protocol used, the connection between VPN provider and client is tap-proof or tamper-proof. By establishing an encrypted connection, information that is exchanged between the VPN service provider and, for example, the computer at home, cannot simply be viewed.
This sounds plausible at first and makes many users believe that they surf the Internet “anonymously” and “safely” because of these facts. But the reality is different and exposes the advertising of anonymity as a cheap marketing trick, which users are put on the spot by the dozen.
The fairy tale of anonymous surfing
Despite the advertising promises, anonymous surfing via VPN in the network is not possible. Three reasons why it can’t work:
- Technology: Today, tracking methods are so advanced that the IP address is increasingly losing its importance as a key feature. Certain features, such as cookies, installed browser add-ons, screen resolution, standard language and the like, allow users to be identified almost unambiguously. These features do not initially make the user identifiable by name. However, if we link the collected information with the “human factor” (next point), it looks quite different.
- Human: The average user uses at least one social network, shops in online shops, is registered in at least 3 forums and is busy surfing the web. For the sake of convenience, the same browser with identical features is always used for all these purposes. Moreover, this is always done via the rented VPN access, because security is secure… This convenience and ignorance makes practically every user of a VPN access identifiable. This is because real names are often used or stored in social networks, private e-mail accounts or online shopping. With the help of tracking methods, these can be easily put into relation not only for secret services, but also for advertising networks and Co.
- Law: A look at the data protection regulations of a VPN provider is often extremely informative. Contrary to one’s own promises, the following statements can often be found there.
In addition to the information you provide via our order form, we store the following data: IP address, the times when you use our services and the total volume of data transmitted per day. We will never pass on information about you or your account to anyone except to law enforcement personnel with the necessary documents and papers.
Everyone should be clear: This contradicts the idea of anonymity. The location of the VPN provider plays a major role in the matter of data protection in this context, and the legal obligations can be derived from this. Many providers are simply forced to maintain server logs for a certain period of time or, for example, to forward information to investigating authorities.
If, on the other hand, the provider advertises a location on the Cayman Islands, for example, one can assume lax data protection regulations or legal obligations. But even if a provider promises not to store server logs, no one can control it. Thus the VPN concept stands and falls with the trust in the operator.
We now know that a VPN can neither surf the Internet “anonymously” nor escape the data trackers. Let’s take a look at the advertising promises of the various VPN service providers:
- Absolute privacy and protection with our first-class VPN service.
- will make sure that your online presence cannot be intercepted, monitored and recorded by your internet service provider, company, school or government.
A VPN service supports you in keeping your data track on the Internet anonymous. A VPN encrypts your internet connection to keep your location secret and prevents your internet service provider from monitoring your online communication and internet usage. Encrypt your Internet traffic and hide your IP address from hackers and Internet spies.
100% anonymity – no logs – super fast
Experience the Internet without hackers, tracking and censorship. [name censored] secures your WLAN connections, lets you surf anonymously and allows global access to your favorite content.
These advertising promises are of course nonsense and in principle fall under the category of misleading advertising.
VPNs are therefore by no means designed or suitable for surfing the Internet anonymously or escaping tracking. For other purposes, a VPN may make sense. Think, for example, of bypassing geo-blocks based on IP addresses that prevent access to videos, music or censored websites. Anyone who has purchased VPN access exclusively for anonymous web surfing should know: You have fallen for the advertising promise of a VPN provider.
Anonymity is not graded either in real life or on the Internet. No one can be “largely” anonymous or achieve a “certain degree” of anonymity. Anonymity exists only completely – or not at all. And although the desire for anonymity on the Internet is justified, this can hardly be put into practice. In any case, far more measures are necessary than just connecting to your VPN service provider.
Those who are actually interested in better protecting their privacy while surfing the net or leaving fewer data traces are recommended to take a look at the article series “Not my data”.