While more and more people are correctly concerned about internet security and are making the decision to use a VPN, consumers must pick carefully.
With several stories concerning web-tracking, public concern is higher than ever. The population is troubled by the pervasive tracking and uncontrolled data collection that continues today, despite widespread protest and condemnation of the tactics. Privacy campaigners have voiced concern and demanded action against the practice of using cookies to transmit users’ data to numerous companies each time they navigate to a website. This practice builds the backbone of the online advertising industry and has been massively profitable for those selling and using the data.
Those individuals that are unhappy with this process of organizations accumulating their data and selling it to the highest bidder have increasingly been selecting to use virtual private networks to enable them to evade these invasive practices.
There are several benefits to using a VPN for online security. For example, a recent study by ExpressVPN on biometric identity risk suggests VPNs will become more necessary in the future. The study suggests we should not only be concerned with keeping our passwords safe but should also take steps to ensure our biometrics (fingerprints, DNA, voiceprint, etc.) are equally secure through the use of tools like VPNs.
Yet, not all VPNs are the same and it’s clear that some VPNs, rather than offering protection, are the perpetrators of the tracking. With any online service, it’s necessary to perform some amount of due diligence to make sure the service is what it claims to be. There are a few different ways trackers are employed and knowledge of these tactics can help you avoid being spied on.
First and Third-party Cookies
Both first and third-party cookies are used to track your internet behavior and are deployed in different ways with very different objectives. When you visit a website, first-party cookies will be directly stored by that website. The cookies are used by the proprietors of the website to remember your preferred settings and make for a better user experience. In this case, the cookies are working for you and result in you not having to perform actions such as signing in repeatedly or reselecting items for your shopping cart.
Third-party cookies are created by outside parties that are not the website that you navigated to. These are generally employed for online-marketing intentions and positioned on a website through a tag or script. Third-party cookies perform when a user performs an action such as making a purchase or simply browsing an online marketplace. These behaviors are monitored and weaponized to produce targeted advertising to entice you to buy the product you viewed early or a similar/complementary product to your previous purchase.
In simple terms, both are used to track your online behavior, but first-party cookies are there to remember your preferences for ease of use, and third-party cookies are there to remember your preferences to make money from you.
Make the Right Choice
If the VPN you selected is using third-party trackers for advertising objectives, the tracking is straightforward to block in most cases. But it’s when the VPN tracks you through its app that you should be concerned and take action. The in-app trackers are essentially a fox in the hen house and are indicative of a business model that is not concerned with creating the best product to protect users but is about making money for its customer’s data.
If you witness your VPN provider sharing your data with a ton of third parties, or if the provider isn’t transparent or upfront about its procedures, then it’s best to find something else. While companies are more and more coerced into being transparent and notifying you about the presence of cookies, it is more prudent to simply use a VPN with a proven track record of providing customers with the privacy they desire. While it’s tempting to save a few bucks using a free VPN, you should be concerned about how they do intend to make their money.