Can a VPN provider see traffic history of… well, anyone? You, most notably? That’s a natural worry to have, especially among the crowd that tends to pay good money for top-end VPN service on a monthly basis. The short answer is “yes, but no, not really. Usually.” The long answer is what follows.
Finding out whether any particular VPN is able to see your Internet browsing history is of paramount importance to the process of picking a provider. You may be more familiar with this concept as the question of logging or no-logs policy. Namely, a company offering virtual private network services can choose to either log or not log its users’ activity. Why would they do so if the primary reason people come to them is to avoid having their privacy scrutinized and sold to the highest advertisement peddler? Beats us, but we suspect it may have something to do with the fact the average person is so uninformed that companies are willing to bet they can get away with such an anti-consumer practice.
Depressingly enough, they are proven right more often than not.
How else do you explain something like Hola VPN not only existing but thriving in this space, even after numerous very public illustrations of why no one in their right mind should really be using this spying apparatus disguised as an anti-spying apparatus?
The VPN game is all about trust
While any half-decent VPN these days has a strict no-logging policy, note that this bare minimum doesn’t include free solutions, Of course, that is hardly surprising seeing how those tend to consistently fail at offering even the most basic of good VPN functionalities.
While that if-you-are-not-paying-for-it-you-are-the-product mantra does tend to get old, it’s been proven time and time again. So, for the love of everything that was once private, don’t get duped into using a “free” VPN. That’s arguably worse than simply not having now since you’re now getting your data harvested by companies with way laxer security practices than your average spying-addicted conglomerate such as Google or Facebook.
The VPN industry is as trust-dependent as they come because at the end of the day, it all comes down to who you can trust to protect your identity and traffic on the Internet. Yet even if a VPN has a strict no-logging policy, human error opening a single attack vector is all it takes for a significant portion of its ecosystem to get hacked, as NordVPN can attest.
In other words, a VPN that doesn’t keep logs isn’t worth much if it can’t keep attackers from compromising its users in real time.
So, while your run-of-the-mill VPN provider likely doesn’t keep traffic history logs while simultaneously doing a good job of obscuring your identity, that’s far from a guarantee it cannot be hacked or legally forced into spying on you as you’re using its service.
To summarize, the barriers preventing VPN providers from reviewing your traffic history and even outright tracking users aren’t technical but almost entirely ethical in nature. Which once again underlines the importance of identifying a VPN that’s both right for you and sufficiently trustworthy.
“Can a VPN provider see traffic history?” was written by Dominik Bosnjak, a long-time VPN-user-turned-advocate who spends more time scrutinizing VPN Providers on a daily basis than he’d like to admit. When he isn’t writing VPN Guides and covering general Tech News, he’s probably spending time with his dog, video games, or both. Fun fact: the Shih Tzu in question is the only remaining creature in Dominik’s life who hasn’t told him they’re sick of him talking about Best VPN practices and government-sponsored erosion of digital privacy which made using the Internet less convenient over the years. He occasionally dabbles in video editing, Wall Street memes, and demonstrating a remarkable lack of guitar-playing ability.
If you want more tidbit-sized rants about any of those things, you can find him on Twitter @dddominikk.