Hotspot Shield Caught Selling User Data

With the bold privacy claims made by VPN services, it is slightly ironic how often they find themselves at the receiving end of controversy.

Hotspot Shield, one of the oldest and largest players in the game is being accused of violating the privacy of the very users that it claims to protect.

The allegation comes from the digital rights group Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), which has urged the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Hotspot Shield parent company “Anchorfree” for its “unfair and deceptive trade practices”.

The group partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to for investigations.

Tampers With Users’ Devices

The filing, which was first discovered by ZDNet, claims the service inserts JavaScript codes in its users’ devices, which then redirect the devices to websites advertised by Hotspot Shield’s partners.

These codes go way beyond the data the service usually requires for troubleshooting and calibrating devices.

The filing from the advocacy group reads:

Hotspot Shield’s description for its iOS and Android mobile applications declares a “no logs” policy; however, its Privacy Policy, which covers and includes its Hotspot Shield services, describes more elaborate logging practices. Hotspot Shield also monitors information about users’ browsing habits while the VPN is in use. The VPN has been found to be actively injecting JavaScript codes using iframes for advertising and tracking purposes.

Denial By Anchorfree

Anchorfree for its part dismisses such claims and has a “zero knowledge” policy, which means it doesn’t take any identifiable info from its users fearing government inquiries.

However, the filing from CDT claims that the group does log data obtained from its users, contrary to its claim. Unsurprising is also the fact that around 97% of its 500 million users use the free version.

VPN services are usually touted as the first step towards having private connections, given their ability to blanket users from their ISPs and information tracking websites.

Further investigation could once again open up the debate of whether free VPNs are as idealistic and perfectly discreet as they claim to be.

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