The appeal of VPNs won’t need much explanation, and as data storage and access needs continue to grow all the time we will see more and more organizations making the move to them. There’s been plenty of times the masses have been told that some new wrinkle in their digital product is innocuous or harmless, but at least some of the time that’s just not the truth. Many VPNs employ tracker apps, and the reasoning given for them is that they are part of offering you a more personalized experience and the like.
That in itself is true in the bigger picture, but in the smaller one for some it may be that tracker apps are actually putting you at risk. Here at 4GoodHosting we’re a Canadian web hosting provider that takes the well being of our customers to heart and given that some of you may the ones making IT decisions for your business, venture, or interest then this is a topic that’s worthy of discussion. The industry consensus very much seems to be that tolerating VPNs with tracker apps is something you shouldn’t be so indifferent to.
But of course, convincing is always required and so with that understood let’s get right to laying out why that’s the consensus, and why a less intrusive VPN may be best for you.
Most of these types of people will be at least somewhat familiar with protocols and encryption methods used by VPNs. Usually that level of understanding doesn’t make it at all clear as to why VPNs with trackers are creating risks. But let’s start at the start and begin with what a tracker is and what a tracker does. It’s actually a fairly basic explanation – a tracker is something that tracks the choices you make when moving around the Internet. It’s true that most websites and apps use trackers in some way and they’re inclined to follow you nearly everywhere you go.
The information gathered by the trackers about you is then used for targeted advertisements and the like. The trackers are built by software developers at the behest of businesses that want to create greater profits by increasing the chances that like-minded people are made aware of what they have to offer.
1st and 3rd Party Trackers
Understanding the difference between first- and third-party trackers is also helpful in having a better understanding of them, and why they are not completely harmless in the way some people might think they are. The distinction between them is important. The ‘Cookies’ we’ve ALL heard of are examples of first party trackers and used to remember things like your language, layout preferences, and even for saving your shopping cart.
It’s fair to say that cookies are by and large necessary for many websites to give you the type of visitor experience you’re expecting and refusing cookies from being stored is fairly straightforward if you have concerns about their function.
Third-party trackers are entirely different. They’ve been built into websites and apps for the explicit purpose of making money from you. What they are after nearly all of the time is PII – personally identifiable information. Examples could be your IP address, what browser you are using, where you choose to click, long you are on a certain web page, device specs and more. As you’d imagine, this is where most people start to think these trackers are overstepping their bounds.
Free to Profile
And that will also be because the information that’s going to be collected with 3rd party trackers will be used to create a profile for you, and from it comes targeted ads that are delivered to gain business and revenue from you. And yes, Google is ALL about 3rd-party trackers with a ‘more the merrier’ attitude related to having them in place.
A lot of mobile apps will also make use of 3rd-party trackers, and in some ways you need to be even more aware when it comes to using a VPN that implements trackers in their apps. VPN apps that utilize trackers are compromising your privacy to make money, and that’s really the long and short of it. They are not required for the app to function properly and then they are actively leaking your information to Google, Facebook, or whoever else among big data companies.
The extent of the information being collected will vary from app to app. But the use of trackers regardless means information about you is being shared, and this isn’t being communicated to users whatsoever.
More Capable Than You Think
Plenty of these third-party trackers are sophisticated to the point that they have a wide net of data to pull from that and often your IP address isn’t even needed to create a targeted profile for you. These trackers can use the huge amount of information they have and the unique ID for you to connect the dots and still trace everything back to you. It is good to know that even if something as easily traceable as an IP address isn’t being shared, there may still be the ability to connect dots and track the person’s behavior online.
This is why ever greater numbers of decision makers are deciding that a VPN service that is making use of trackers should not be trusted.
We’ll conclude here today by saying that it is possible in some instances to get clarity on what a VPN’s tracker might be getting up to. A good example is the Exodus tool that is very useful for Android-specific information. Plus Apple is putting into place brand-new guidelines for App Store apps and making it mandatory that every single app disclose the information they are collecting, the permissions needed, and also what trackers are being used (if any). These are definitely steps in the right direction if people are in general going to become more trusting of these trackers.