Hotspot Shield VPN Caught Selling User Data To Advertisers

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AnchorFree’s Hotspot Shield Virtual Proxy Network (VPN), which promises to mask your traffic and protect your information from the prying eyes of ISPs, has been caught logging connections, monitoring users’ browsing habits, redirecting online traffic, and selling user data to advertisers.

Centre for Democracy & Technology (CDT), a US non-profit advocacy group for digital rights, has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Hotspot Shield for violating its own privacy policy of “complete anonymity” promised to its users. The CDT wants the US federal trade authorities to investigate AnchorFree for deceptive and unfair trade practices.

David Gorodyansky

The 14-page-long complaint claims:

“Hotspot Shield makes strong claims about the privacy and security of its data collection and sharing practices. CEO David Gorodyansky has stated that “we never log or store user data.” The company’s website promises “Anonymous Browsing” and notes that Hotspot Shield keeps “no logs of your online activity or personal information.”

“Contrary to Hotspot Shield’s claims, the VPN has been found to be actively injecting JavaScript codes using iframes for advertising and tracking purposes. An iframe, or “inline frame,” is an HTML tag that can be used to embed content from another site or service onto a webpage; iframes are frequently used to insert advertising, but can also be used to inject other malicious or unwanted code onto a webpage.”

VPNs are supposed to provide an encrypted tunnel for data exchange on an untrusted network. But VPN providers can see their users’ unencrypted traffic and analyse that traffic to monetize via advertising. They can also provide user information to law enforcement if the authorities ask for it.

VPNPrivacy advocacy groups like CDT are trying to sort the good from the bad, but their limited search cannot find and analyse all VPN services. A hefty number of Android based VPN services are full of malware, spyware, adware, and code injection.

Many security researchers advise users to setup their own VPN. Self-identified hacker Sven Slootweg argues not to use a VPN service at all:

“If you absolutely need a VPN, and you understand what its limitations are, purchase a VPS and set up your own.”


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