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Hotspot Shield VPN Accused of Selling Customer Data to Advertisers

Hotspot Shield, one of the largest Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers, has been accused of selling their customer’s private information to online advertisers. The Center for Democracy & Technology recently submitted an official complaint to the United States Federal Trade Commission in which they allege that Hotspot Shield is guilty of employing unfair and deceptive trade practices. The organization that filed the complaint against Hotspot Shield is a non-profit dedicated to advocating for the protection of digital civil liberties around the world.

The Hotspot Shield VPN is owned and operated by a company known as AnchorFree, Inc. The company’s VPN service has been in operation for over a decade. Hotspot Shield offers two different types of their VPN service, a free ad-supported version and a paid subscription version which is referred to as the Elite Version. Hotspot Shield Elite Version of their VPN service ranges in price from $5.99 to $12.99 a month, and a lifetime account costs $119.99. In the complaint filed by the Center for Democracy & Technology, the civil liberties group calls on the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into the information security and data sharing practices of AnchorFree, Inc.’s free Hotspot Shield VPN service. In a 2016 ZDNet interview with David Gorodyansky, the co-founder and CEO of AnchorFree, Inc., it was revealed that 97% of Hotspot Shield VPN users are using the free version of the Hotspot Shield VPN service. The Hotspot Shield VPN software has been download over half a billion times, according to the VPN’s website.

The Center for Democracy & Technology claims that AnchorFree Inc. is not being upfront about precisely how their customers information is being shared and how their network traffic redirection is being conducted. The complaint refers to the free version of the Hotspot Shield VPN service, and not the paid Elite Version of their VPN service. On the VPN’s website, the company claims that their VPN service, “keeps no logs of your online activity or personal information,” and that users of their VPN service can, “Surf the Web anonymously and privately.” The Hotspot Shield VPN’s privacy policy states that, “AnchorFree does not collect any personal Information about you when you use the service.”

While AnchorFree, Inc. tells users that they are not collecting personal information about users of their VPN, an analysis of the free version of the Hotspot Shield VPN service reveals that this is in fact not true. The Center for Democracy & Technology used Carnegie Mellon University’s Mobile App Privacy Compliance automated system to conduct an analysis of the Android app for the free version of the Hotspot Shield VPN service. The analysis revealed that the app permissions for the Hotspot Shield VPN Android app was conducting data sharing with third party advertising networks.

Early in the spring of this year, the United States Congress voted to repeal regulations on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had created to protect the privacy of customers. The FCC’s privacy regulation on ISPs would have required service providers to obtain permission from customers before being allowed to collect and share private personal data like browsing history. Implementation of the FCC’s ISP privacy regulation would not have taken place until 2018. Ironically, after Congress repealed the FCC’s ISP privacy regulation, Hotspot Shield VPN blog featured a post with the headline “Don’t let ISPs monetize your web history: Use Hotspot Shield”, in which they encouraged internet users to utilize their VPN services as a way to avoid having their personal web browsing history shared with third parties, such as advertisers. Several years ago the Hotspot Shield blog also made a post in which they welcomed the involvement of the Federal Trade Commission in regulating online data security.

For trustworthy advice on which VPNs you can trust to protect your online privacy, DeepDotWeb has created a VPN comparison chart of the best privacy-centric VPNs. You may also want to check out our article titled “Is your VPN Legit or Shit?”, which also includes a list of VPN providers to avoid.

One comment

  1. Asus Router Support

    Some time more application makes the information steal process by using the background process they make that data available to the advertiser or make some privacy hole as they give the identity protection.

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