Using a VPN service to protect your internet activity and overcome geo-restrictions is a good thing. However, since your data is going through the VPN provider’s infrastructure, you may be worried about what they do with your data. Do VPN providers keep your data?

The truth is, VPN services providers shouldn’t keep your sensitive data logs as that could negate the purpose of using the service in the first place -anonymity. So, the short answer to this question is a big No. However, top VPN providers do actually log sensitive user data.

This is why it is important to find a trusted VPN that not only keeps you safe but also maintains a high level of transparency regarding its users’ data. Logging such sensitive data means that the VPN service can, at any given time, be compelled to give up information about your private activity on the internet. 

At the same time, there is no telling why a VPN service would want to track and log your data if not for commercial purposes- such as third-party advertising. 

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What some VPN services might log 

Some VPNs have been found out in the past for keeping user’s logs and probably using it for commercial purposes.  Some of the data that may be logged and used by an unscrupulous VPN provider without your knowledge includes things like:

Your IP addresses

The VPN is responsible for assigning you an IP address every time you connect through their network. They are also able to see your real IP address that can ultimately be used to get your location and log it. 

With such capabilities, your VPN provider mustn’t keep an identifiable record of your IP addresses if at all they are interested in safeguarding your privacy. However, some VPN providers do log IP addresses belonging to their clients.

Why Your VPN should not log your IP address– As mentioned earlier, the IP address logs could be used to create a very accurate map of your physical location for tracking purposes.

This kind of information could be used for commercial purposes such as location-based advertising or government tracking. All it takes is for a court to subpoena your VPN provider or a government to demand access to its physical servers.

Browsing activity 

When you use a VPN, all your browsing data, including the websites you visit, and your interests are visible to your VPN provider. This is because you will be passing your traffic through a private network only accessible to you and them. A trusted VPN service should never need to keep logs of your browsing activity. 

Why your VPN should log your browsing activity – The primary purpose for surfing behind a VPN is to keep your browsing activity anonymous and secure. The anonymity part ensures that advertisers and others who may be tracking you have no data on your browsing activity.

However, the only reason a VPN provider could log your browsing activity is to use it for commercial purposes which mostly involves selling it to third-party advertisers.

Connection data and DNS queries

Some VPN providers will go a step further and use their privilege to collect data on your connections to their service and the web. This might include the amount of bandwidth you are using, when and how long you use their service, the servers you are using, data packets transmitted, your device information, connection timestamps etc. 

This connection data may be harmless if it’s anonymized and cannot be linked to the users. The VPN service might need some of the data for billing purposes if they are selling the service according to the amount of bandwidth and servers utilized.

However, it’s important that this information is only accessible by the VPN service and anonymized so that it cannot be used to identify and target users. Use the following criteria when using a VPN service that will not misuse your data:

Look at their user policy agreements– Unscrupulous VPN providers will always sneak in a few clauses in their policy that allows them to log your data.

Be sure to go through their policy and ensure that they don’t have a clause that allows them to track and log your browsing activity, IP addresses and other sensitive information. The VPN should be compliant with EFF guidelines and other organizations dealing with user privacy

VPN server location- Generally, avoid VPN services whose servers are located in countries known to have tight internet censorship and surveillance.