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Investigation claims most mobile VPN apps are run by dodgy companies

Chinese hacker in front of digital datastream flag

An investigation by Top10VPN.com has concluded more than half of the most popular VPN apps are run by ‘secretive companies with Chinese ownership’.

The whole point of VPN apps is to protect your mobile online behaviour from third party snooping. Chinese companies, however, are regularly accused of collaborating with the Chinese state in order to facilitate espionage activities. While there is limited concrete proof of this kind of activity, VPN users are entitled to know who it is that’s claiming to protect their privacy, and this investigation alleges that is being deliberately concealed.

“What consumers tend to forget is that in order for VPNs to protect their online privacy, all their internet traffic must pass through their VPN provider’s servers and can be potentially logged and shared with third parties,” said Simon Migliano, head of research at Top10VPN.com

“Leading VPN providers have detailed privacy policies that preclude them from monitoring this traffic. Yet many of the most popular free VPN apps for smartphones have nothing of the sort in their policies – meaning that there’s a really disconcerting ambiguity about what is happening to this data.

“To add to this is the fact that so many of these VPNs have Chinese ownership – and some are even based in the country’s flagship technology parks. It’s been widely reported that China has really clamped down on local VPN providers in recent months which raises questions about why these companies – which have such large international user bases – have been allowed to continue operating.”

Migliano is especially appalled at the lack gatekeeping and quality control from Google and Apple in this case. We were genuinely shocked that listings for these apps contained false information and links to such substandard resources that it’s clear there can be but minimal oversight of these apps,” he said. “This is a dereliction of duty from Apple and Google, whose lax controls are potentially leaving their customers open to wholesale data harvesting.”

Top10VPN.com presumably make money by people using its service to switch VPN apps, so it has a clear vested interest in urging people to do just that, but that doesn’t mean it’s findings aren’t significant. At the same time just because an app is Chinese that doesn’t mean it’s dodgy and the substantive issue here is about transparency and quality control in general. It makes you wonder how many other mobile apps are something other than they appear to be.

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2 comments

  1. Mr. VPN 20/11/2018 @ 9:01 am

    Great article as always Scott, just wanted to throw in my five cents here as I feel that pointing to VPN companies specifically is a tad unfair.

    I think it’s no secret that free apps make money back in some way or another be it advertising or “data harvesting”. The headline ‘Investigation claims free mobile VPN apps are run by dodgy companies’ might have been more aptly titled. I agree with Simon that Google and Apple should show due diligence in selecting their partners, particularly with countries that are known to have lax security controls or outright big brother behavior.

    As you rightly pointed out, the company that Simon works for is indeed an affiliate site who make a decent cut when a visitor signs up for a VPN. Let’s just bear this in mind – when an app is free the person downloading it becomes the product.

  2. Eury 21/11/2018 @ 1:01 pm

    this is so true, when you think of this how come something can be free… But this case with China is new to me… it is good that I never thought about free software I went for nordvpn as my first provider and haven’t changed it ever since.

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