Who Is Keeping Tabs on Your VPN Usage?
A recent story about how the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, found out that employees who were working from home were not attending to their duties brings up an important issue about VPN services. The employees at Yahoo were using a VPN service to secure communications with the office. According to multiple media reports, Mayer accessed the VPN logs to see when the employees were using the VPN connection and, upon finding out that many of them were not working as much as was necessary, she demanded that everybody start showing up at the office again.
This isn’t necessarily important for people who telecommute, unless you happen to work for Marissa Mayer. What it does bring up, however, is that VPNs don’t necessarily mean privacy. In order to ensure that you do have online privacy, you have to understand the logging policies that apply to your own VPN service.
In all of our reviews, we give the logging procedures used by the various VPN providers that we review. This is important information. Some VPN providers only keep logs of when you hook up to the servers and when you disconnect from them. Others keep more detailed logs, which are used for troubleshooting. The thing to keep in mind is that, to some extent, just about every VPN provider out there does keep logs.
What determines your overall level of privacy is whether the VPN provider keeps those logs for a long time, how difficult it is for someone to request those logs and where the company is located. For instance, a VPN provider located in the US might find themselves served with US subpoenas for VPN logs that they have to honor, while a provider located in the UK would be under no obligation to honor those requests. For people who live in nations with particularly oppressive regimes, this is one of the advantages of a VPN service. A VPN service may have logs of where they’ve been and their home governments may actually prosecute them for visiting certain sites, but because their VPN service is located in a different nation, the VPN service doesn’t particularly care about a subpoena for information from, say, Iran.
Know Your Provider
VPN services are not designed so people can do illegal things online. In fact, no reputable VPN provider is going to stick up for you if you’re using the VPN for illegal purposes. There simply designed to provide a level of security on the Internet, but all security has limitations. Some VPN clients who are particularly worried about privacy use a technique called jurisdictional layering, where they deliberately seek out services in nations where it is hard to get records due to language barriers, legal conflicts and so forth. In any case, remember that a VPN is only as private as the logging policies of the provider.