Thursday, December 2, 2021

It’s Time to Stop Paying for a VPN

by Brian X Chenow, The New York Times Company

I’ve paid for Virtual Private Networks, a service that claims to protect your privacy when you’re connected to a public Wi-Fi network at a local coffee shop, airport, or hotel.

For more than a decade, security experts have recommended using a VPN to protect your Internet traffic from bad actors who are trying to spy on you. But just as tech gadgets get out of date over time, so does some tech advice.

The reality is that web security has improved so much over the years that VPN services, which charge a monthly subscription fee that costs as much as Netflix, offer additional protection for most people concerned about privacy, some security researchers say. he said.

Many of the most popular VPN services are now less reliable than they used to be because they have been bought by large companies with shady track records. This is a deal-breaker when it comes to using a VPN service, which throttles our internet traffic. If you can’t trust a product that claims to protect your privacy, what good is there?

“Trusting these people is really important,” said Matthew Green, a computer scientist who studies encryption, of VPN providers. “There’s no good way to know what they’re doing with your data, over which they have a lot of control.”

I learned this the hard way. For several years, I subscribed to a popular VPN service called Private Internet Access. In 2019, I saw news that the service had been acquired by Cape Technologies, a London-based security firm. Kaap was previously named Crossrider, a company called by researchers at Google and the University of California to develop the malware. I canceled my subscription immediately.

Over the past five years, Cape has also purchased several other popular VPN services, including CyberGhost VPN, ZenMate and, last month, ExpressVPN in a $936 million deal. This year, Cape also bought a bunch of VPN review sites that give top ratings to the VPN services it owns.

A Cape spokesperson said Crossrider, which has long been shut down, was a development platform that was misused by those who distributed malware. She said Cape’s VPN review sites have maintained their independent editorial standards.

“It kind of sets a precedent from a consumer perspective,” said Sven Taylor, founder of tech blog Restore Privacy. “As the average user goes online to look for information about a product, are they aware that what they are reading may have been written by the company that owns the final product?”

One caveat: VPNs are still great for some applications, such as those in authoritarian countries where citizens use technology to look like they are accessing the Internet in other places. This helps give them access to web content that they might not normally be able to view. But as a mainstream privacy tool, it is no longer an ideal solution.

Nation World News Desk
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