Lawmakers Push FTC To Crack Down On Sleazy VPN Industry
Given the seemingly endless privacy scandals that now engulf the tech and telecom sectors on a near-daily basis, many consumers have flocked to virtual private networks (VPN) to protect and encrypt their data. One study found that VPN use quadrupled between 2016 and 2018 as consumers rushed to protect data in the wake of scandals, breaches, and hacks.
Unfortunately, many consumers are flocking to VPNs under the mistaken impression that such tools are a near-mystical panacea, acting as a sort of bulletproof shield that protects them from any potential privacy violations on the internet. Not only is that not true (ISPs, for example, have a universe of ways to track you anyway), many VPN providers are even less ethical than privacy-scandal-plagued companies or ISPs.
Last week, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Senator Ron Wyden wrote a letter to the FTC urging it to take a closer look at the increasingly dodgy behavior in the VPN sector:
“In December 2021, Consumer Reports (CR) found that 75 percent of leading VPN providers misrepresented their products and technology or made hyperbolic claims about the protection they provide users on their websites, such as advertising a ‘military-grade encryption’ which doesn’t exist. Advocacy groups have also found that leading VPN services intentionally misrepresent the functionality of their product and fail to provide adequate security to their users. We’re highly concerned that this deceptive advertising is giving abortion-seekers a false sense of security when searching for abortion-related care or information, putting them at a higher risk of prosecution.”
It’s a good segment for the FTC to take a closer look at given the agency’s mandate over “unfair and deceptive” practices. Granted this is the United States where misleading consumers is a sport, and the FTC is tasked with overseeing everything from bleach label accuracy to auto mechanic scams. So given how much is on its plate, it’s not clear whether they’ll actually crack down on dodgy VPNs anytime soon.
After a repeated few years where VPN providers were found to be dodgy or tracked user data when they claimed they didn’t, professionals have shifted their thinking on recommending even using one.
While folks requiring strict security over wireless may still benefit from using a reputable VPN provider, experts say the landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade. Improvements in the overall security of ordinary browsing (bank logins, etc.), plus the risk of choosing the wrong VPN provider, means that, in many instances, people may just be better off without one.