Is Your VPN Monitoring What You Do?

One of the biggest reasons – perhaps the biggest reason – that people opt for a virtual private network (or VPN) is to shake the feeling that someone out there is tracking what they’re up to online. No one likes to feel that their privacy is being violated and no one likes to feel that Big Brother is watching over their shoulder, even if what you’re doing is totally above board.

VPNs are a popular solution because they make monitoring a whole lot harder.

All Internet connections have an IP address that is associated with information like your Internet service provider and your physical location. This means that the typical user is alarmingly easy to monitor and track online. The idea of a VPN is that it blocks access to your IP address information, essentially giving you a blank slate while you browse.

… In theory, at least.

Yes, a VPN will prevent the website you’re accessing from knowing exactly who you are, but that’s not going to do your overall security much good if the VPN service itself is monitoring and logging information about your activities online.

How much monitoring a VPN does is very much the prerogative of the provider, so if you’re concerned, choose carefully.

VPNs are used for a wide variety of purposes, including remotely accessing business networks, using video and television streaming websites from abroad, and protecting your sensitive data while surfing the net. Depending on what you’re planning to use it for, and what level of anonymity you need, you’ll have to figure out whether this particular VPN’s privacy and tracking policy is going to work for you.

All VPN services engage in some form of logging, which means that a record of your activities is being kept by the service for potential future reference.

Those records are kept internally for privacy reasons and are not immediately shared with anyone. Due to the large number of users who employ VPN services on a daily basis, the logs are rarely kept indefinitely. If a VPN service engages in logging activities, those logs are typically disposed of after a period of 30 or 60 days.

But the actual information contained in the logs of a virtual private network, including the level of detail and how long they’ll hold on to it, varies depending on the service.

Most logs will contain basic information about your IP address, the types of files you were accessing, the types of sites you were visiting and time stamps that indicate when these connections or file transfers were taking place.

In that respect, the log of a virtual private network isn't entirely unlike the types of logs that all Internet Service Providers keep on a regular basis. That means you still need to make a call on whether you want this particular company knowing what you’re doing, and whether you trust them to keep it secure.

If you're worried about your anonymity online, always consult the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of a VPN service's main site before signing up.

If logging activity is going on with the service, this is where it will most likely be referenced and explained. Here, too, you should be able to find out how long those logs are kept before they are automatically disposed of.

Never assume that all VPN services offer basically the same thing.

Monitoring policies should be at least, if not more, important a factor in your selection process as price, speed and server location. After all, if you’re using a VPN to bolster your privacy and security, this should be what drives your choice.

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