Web users need to take the initiative and read the privacy policies of the privacy platforms they

As Online Privacy Becomes Commercialized, Consumers Need to Get Educated

Commercial Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are playing an increasing role in the current battle between privacy-conscious web users and government agencies seeking to increase their surveillance reach. But as online privacy becomes yet another product, ready to be branded and packaged, the problem of dishonest vendors, and a lack of education amongst customers, threatens to undermine any real benefit the market can bring.

Since the PRISM revelations, VPN usage is on the increase. IVPN saw an increase in sign-ups of around 56% in the two months following Edward Snowden's revelations. Other VPNs also reported an increase in business (as did privacy-orientated search engine DuckDuckGo). On the face of it, this is great news. More web users are starting to take online privacy seriously and are aware their private data is no longer (or never was) secure. But it also highlights a lack of education amongst web users. Why? Because VPNs will do virtually nothing to protect your data from the kind of surveillance outlined in the leaked PRISM documents.

The whole point of PRISM was to create backdoors into the web's most popular services, such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook. These backdoors allowed the NSA to intercept user data and harvest their information. That information could then be linked to the user's account and identity. VPNs can prevent an eavesdropper knowing a user's location and IP address, and prevent an ISP from recording your internet activity, but once you've signed up for a Gmail account you're on your own––that data is stored on Google's servers and is accessible by anyone who may have a backdoor onto those servers.

Web users need to take the initiative and read the privacy policies of the privacy platforms they're signing up for.

So, there is evidently a danger of web users not being properly educated on how to protect their data and a risk that VPN companies will exploit the climate of fear generated by the PRISM revelations, offering a wrong solution to the problem. Indeed, some VPNs have been less than honest when it comes to promoting their services in other ways. For instance, one of the key reasons to use a VPN––as touched on above––is its ability to avoid the data retention practices of an ISP. Nearly all ISPs will retain user data for a set period of time in the United States, and every ISP in Europe is forced by law to retain data for the entirety of a users' subscription and up to two years after the subscription ends.

VPNs are able to get around the above by wiping their logs of user activity regularly and reducing the period of data retention to, in some cases, minutes. The problem is not all VPNs actually state how regularly they wipe user data, and when you look closely at their privacy policies, you'll find some of the most popular services retain data for just as long as a regular ISP. Some of the biggest VPNs on the market may retain user data for two years, whereas others may only retain information for a few months.

It's therefore very important for web users to understand what kind of online privacy they are getting for their money and whether or not that service is actually offering the kind of protection they expect. Organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation do a great job at educating the public on these matters, but web users also need to take the initiative themselves and actually read the privacy policies of the privacy platforms they're signing up for. 

About the Author

Nick Pearson is CEO of IVPN.


  • 12 Commercial Crime Sites to Do Your Research

    12 Commercial Crime Sites to Do Your Research

    Understanding crime statistics in your industry and area is crucial for making important decisions about your security budget. With so much information out there, how can you know which statistics to trust? Read Now

  • Boosting Safety and Efficiency

    Boosting Safety and Efficiency

    In alignment with the state of Mississippi’s mission of “Empowering Mississippi citizens to stay connected and engaged with their government,” Salient's CompleteView VMS is being installed throughout more than 150 state boards, commissions and agencies in order to ensure safety for thousands of constituents who access state services daily. Read Now

  • Live From GSX: Post-Show Review

    Live From GSX: Post-Show Review

    This year’s Live From GSX program was a rousing success! Again, we’d like to thank our partners, and IPVideo, for working with us and letting us broadcast their solutions to the industry. You can follow our Live From GSX 2023 page to keep up with post-show developments and announcements. And if you’re interested in working with us in 2024, please don’t hesitate to ask about our Live From programs for ISC West in March or next year’s GSX. Read Now

    • Industry Events
    • GSX
  • People Say the Funniest Things

    People Say the Funniest Things

    By all accounts, GSX version 2023 was completely successful. Apparently, there were plenty of mix-ups with the airlines and getting aircraft from the East Coast into Big D. I am all ears when I am in a gathering of people. You never know when a nugget of information might flip out. Read Now

    • Industry Events
    • GSX

Featured Cybersecurity


New Products

  • Mobile Safe Shield

    Mobile Safe Shield

    SafeWood Designs, Inc., a manufacturer of patented bullet resistant products, is excited to announce the launch of the Mobile Safe Shield. The Mobile Safe Shield is a moveable bullet resistant shield that provides protection in the event of an assailant and supplies cover in the event of an active shooter. With a heavy-duty steel frame, quality castor wheels, and bullet resistant core, the Mobile Safe Shield is a perfect addition to any guard station, security desks, courthouses, police stations, schools, office spaces and more. The Mobile Safe Shield is incredibly customizable. Bullet resistant materials are available in UL 752 Levels 1 through 8 and include glass, white board, tack board, veneer, and plastic laminate. Flexibility in bullet resistant materials allows for the Mobile Safe Shield to blend more with current interior décor for a seamless design aesthetic. Optional custom paint colors are also available for the steel frame. 3

  • Automatic Systems V07

    Automatic Systems V07

    Automatic Systems, an industry-leading manufacturer of pedestrian and vehicle secure entrance control access systems, is pleased to announce the release of its groundbreaking V07 software. The V07 software update is designed specifically to address cybersecurity concerns and will ensure the integrity and confidentiality of Automatic Systems applications. With the new V07 software, updates will be delivered by means of an encrypted file. 3

  • Camden CM-221 Series Switches

    Camden CM-221 Series Switches

    Camden Door Controls is pleased to announce that, in response to soaring customer demand, it has expanded its range of ValueWave™ no-touch switches to include a narrow (slimline) version with manual override. This override button is designed to provide additional assurance that the request to exit switch will open a door, even if the no-touch sensor fails to operate. This new slimline switch also features a heavy gauge stainless steel faceplate, a red/green illuminated light ring, and is IP65 rated, making it ideal for indoor or outdoor use as part of an automatic door or access control system. ValueWave™ no-touch switches are designed for easy installation and trouble-free service in high traffic applications. In addition to this narrow version, the CM-221 & CM-222 Series switches are available in a range of other models with single and double gang heavy-gauge stainless steel faceplates and include illuminated light rings. 3