Is Your VPN Tracking (and Leaking) User Activity?

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The VPN industry touts all sorts of privacy protocols and encryption methods that purport to protect users. While this is, undoubtedly, important information, and is a decent way to compare and contrast different VPN services, it isn’t the full story when it comes to your privacy. An often-overlooked issue is the use of trackers by VPN solutions; users should be wary of trusting any VPN service that uses them.

Essentially, a tracker is, as the name suggests, something that will track user activity across the internet. Many websites and apps use trackers in some form or another, and they follow users almost everywhere they go on the internet. The information harvested by trackers is usually used for things like targeted advertisements. If you’ve ever clicked on an advertisement for a product or a service and then started seeing that same advert everywhere you go, then you’ve been tracked.

Trackers exist so that companies can make money at the expense of your privacy.

However, there is an important distinction to be made between first-party and third-party trackers. First-party trackers are things like cookies that are used to remember information like language or layout preferences, or perhaps even saving your shopping cart on an e-commerce site. Such trackers are deemed necessary for many websites in order to give users a more seamless experience—and for these kinds of trackers, it is often easy to opt out and refuse cookies from being stored.

Third-party trackers, on the other hand, are trackers built to facilitate the harvest of information from websites and apps that can later be used to make money from you and/or your activity. The information gathered by third-party trackers varies, but it is often personally identifiable information (PII). For example, data like your IP address, what browser you use, what you click on, how long you are on a specific web page, etc. All of this information is used to create a profile about you and, in turn, is used to make money from you via targeted advertisements. It isn’t just websites that make use of third-party trackers—many mobile apps do this, as well. And this is where users need to use caution before choosing a VPN that…