One of the world’s most popular VPN services has been accused of selling data on its users to advertisers.
Hotspot Shield, which offers a free VPN service, is accused of “unfair and deceptive trade practices” by pro privacy organisation, The Center for Democracy & Technology.
CDT claims that Hotspot Shield logged user IP addresses, recorded location data and sold it to advertisers.
CDT said: “This complaint concerns undisclosed and unclear data sharing and traffic redirection occurring in Hotspot Shield Free VPN that should be considered unfair and deceptive trade practices under Section 5 of the FTC Act.”
However, Hotspot Shield has denied the accusations.
In a statement, David Gorodynasky, CEO of its parent company AnchorFree said:
“We strongly believe in online consumer privacy.”
“This means that the information Hotspot Shield users provide to us is never associated with their online activities when they are using Hotspot Shield, we do not store user IP addresses and protect user personally identifiable information from both third parties and from ourselves.
“The recent claims to the contrary made by a non-profit advocacy group, the Center for Democracy and Technology, are unfounded. While we commend the CDT for their dedication to protecting users’ privacy, we were surprised by these allegations and dismayed that the CDT did not contact us to discuss their concerns.
“AnchorFree prides itself on being transparent about its data practices and would be happy to engage in a discussion to clarify the facts and better understand the nature of the CDT’s concerns. We are reaching out to appropriate groups and remain committed to defending the privacy and internet freedom of all our users.”
Hotspot Shield is a widely used VPN service. Its Android app for example, has been downloaded more than 50 million times, with an average rating of 4.2 from 1 million reviews.
However, in a number of recent reviews in the Google Play Store, users complain of suddenly seeing ads on their lockscreen.
“Two, stupid lock screen with ads. Not for me. It’d be better to have ads in the app itself not everything you unlock your screen. You could still monetize your free app but be less intrusive. Very sorry but uninstalled,” read one review.
Even customers who paid for the Elite version are shown ads, the reviews claim.
While using a VPN is best practice for all internet users, it may not be immediately clear what VPN providers do with your data, unless of course you thoroughly read the privacy policies and even then there is no guarantee your data is safe.
If you are concerned about online privacy you may consider using an alternative to Hotspot Shield or invest in a paid VPN service, rather than one that is free of charge.
Ask yourself if the reason why a VPN service is free because the company operating it is profiting from your data.
Source: Graham Cluley security news