Verizon’s New ‘Safe’ VPN May Collect and Sell Your Data Anyway

Last week, reported on the flaws in Virtual Private Network, or VPN, systems used to protect user privacy when surfing the internet. Though VPSs are supposed to mask users’ IP addresses—which pinpoint a computer’s location on the internet—in fact, many VPN providers simply harvest and sell user data anyway, rendering the “private” in “Virtual Private Network” a superficial protection at best.

Now one of the country’s dominant internet service providers, Verizon, is offering its own VPN service to customers for an additional $3.99 per month, under the brand name “Safe WiFi.” But according to a report by the tech site Motherboard, the danger lurking in the Safe WiFi service comes from Verizon itself, which could use its own VPN network as a data farm.

According to Verizon’s own online advertising, SafeWifi offers customers “a VPN which protects your privacy when you use public Wi-Fi, so you can connect confidently and securely.”

The problem is, Verizon simply failed to attach any kind of privacy policy to its new service, referring users instead to the privacy policy authored by McAfee, the internet security firm that partners with Verizon on the new VPN network. And what does the McAfee policy say?

Only that the company will “use Personal Data for which we have a legitimate interest, such as direct marketing, individual or market research, anti-fraud protection, or any other purpose disclosed to you at the time you provide Personal Data or with your consent.”

In addition, according to the tech site Gizmodo, McAfee promises only to “generally” disclose to users how it plans to capture, distribute and sell their personal data—including a user’s web browsing history.

A Verizon spokesperson told Gizmodo that the lack of an adequate privacy policy for Safe WiFi was “a mistake.”

“We’re working with McAfee to post their privacy policy specific to Safe WiFi,” Verizon told the site. “It will reflect the fact that neither Verizon nor McAfee collects any personal data regarding users or [their] use of the Safe WiFi VPN.”

But no revised SafeWiFi privacy policy had been posted as of August 7.

There may still be reason for caution even if Verizon gets around to posting a SafeWiFi privacy policy, says Gizmodo correspondent Rhett Jones.

“The thing is, Verizon is the kind of company you want to protect yourself from if you’re concerned enough about privacy to be using a mobile VPN,” Jones wrote. “The big stories that circulate in the media about reckless privacy standards are more often than not about big companies like Verizon, Facebook, and Equifax being data-hungry money machines.”

Facebook now offers its own VPN service to users, in the form of an app called Onavo. But Gizmodo warns against downloading the Onavo app as well. 

“The company is actually collecting and analyzing the data of Onavo users. Doing so allows Facebook to monitor the online habits of people outside their use of the Facebook app itself,” the site reported. “To put it another way, Onavo is corporate spyware.”

Photo by Doug Kline / Wikimedia Commons