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FTC’s warning to read the fine print before using VPN apps

FTC’s warning to read the fine print before using VPN apps

Do you use a VPN service? We always talk about the benefits of a VPN since it is a good way to boost your online security and privacy, especially when connected to public Wi-Fi.

It is also a good way to hide your internet tracks from would-be snoops. Think of it as a middleman that provides a tunnel between you and the websites you're visiting.

However, the Federal Trade Commission is warning users to read the fine print and the user agreements first before using a VPN app. Why? The FTC said that neglecting to read a VPN's fine print may open you to the same exploits from which you are looking to protect yourself.

Is that VPN app safe?

In a recent post, the FTC is advising everyone to know the benefits and risks before downloading a VPN app.

The post then cites a study of 300 VPN apps that found that most of the services didn't use encryption and worse, requested sensitive information or unexpected privileges. Some of the apps even shared data with third parties for advertising purposes and analytics.

This, of course, is in light of the controversy surrounding Facebook's own VPN service, Onavo Protect, critics are saying that this VPN app is a clever way to direct all your mobile data right into Facebook's hands. Some are even saying that it's Facebook's very own spyware. Click here to read more about Facebook's Onavo Protect.

FTC's VPN security basics

Before downloading a VPN app, the FTC recommends you to:

  • Do your research - Before downloading a VPN, check online and user reviews first. Don't forget to read the app's description carefully. Since you are trusting the VPN app with all your traffic, it's important to make sure it's reputable.
  • Read the permissions carefully - As with any other app, please review all the permissions before installing a VPN app. Some apps can sneak requests for non-essential permissions to fool users into providing more than they ought to. For example, if a VPN starts asking for access to your text messages and contact lists, avoid it at all costs!
  • Not all VPN services encrypt your data - The FTC also warns that some VPN services do not protect your traffic with encryption or encrypt just part of it. Again, check reviews and the app's fine print for information about a VPN app's encryption.
  • A VPN app will not make you entirely anonymous - Most VPN apps will hide or obscure your traffic from your internet provider or from public Wi-Fi networks but this means you're shifting your trust from your provider to the VPN service instead. As such, VPN service providers may have identifying information that can link your IP to you (for example, email addresses or phone numbers.) A VPN service may also choose to keep activity logs so be careful with who you go with.
  • VPN apps may share data with third parties - This is another potential danger especially with free VPN apps - they could be sharing your information with third parties for revenue. Make sure you read a VPN service's terms of service and sharing policies before committing.

Click here to read the full FTC advisory about VPN apps.

Do you have any questions Kim can lend a hand to?

Click here to send Kim a question, she may use it and answer it on her radio show. The Kim Komando Show is broadcast on over 450 stations. Click here to find the show time in your area.

In other news, this new clever website shows you what sites track about you when you visit

Speaking of privacy policies, do you know anyone who even reads them? Most of us don't really bother reading them since they’re hard to understand. This website is about to change that and it will reveal everything a site tracks about you.

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