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Is a VPN really the best way to protect your online privacy? Consumer Reports explains

Posted at 6:40 AM, Jan 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-03 07:40:36-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Over the years people have looked for ways to stay safe online. But one of the more popular ways may not be as safe as you think.

There's anti-virus software and virtual private networks or VPNs, but the false sense of security you get from some VPNs could actually leave you less safe when you're online.

We’ll start with the basics: A VPN is a software service that routes data to and from your computer or smartphone through an encrypted tunnel.

It’s something Elias Huerta has been using for several months.

"The No. 1 reason that I got a VPN was to feel safer online in public places," Huerta said.

Sounds great, but testing by Consumer Reports reveals many VPNs don’t live up to their claims.

"When you are using a VPN, you are actually giving a VPN your data. So there’s a false sense of security where that VPN is able to access and use your data as they see fit," said Amira Dhalla with Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports' tests included a check to see whether best security practices were used, whether data was leaked, and what the VPN’s privacy policy said about how customers’ personal data might be used.

Of the 16 VPNs tested, three came out on top: Mullvad VPN AB, IVPN, and Mozilla VPN.

"These three VPNs did the best because they limited data sharing, they had accurate marketing messages, they included third-party audits of their programs, and they had open-source code and modern protocols," Dhalla said.

When shopping around, Consumer Reports says be wary of any VPN that promises to provide complete anonymity online or to protect you from all advertisers, governments, or criminals online or ones that offer “military-grade encryption” which doesn’t actually mean anything.

Not everyone needs a VPN. You might want one if you’re using the free wi-fi at a coffee shop or at the airport, but experts say you really don't need one if you’re on a trusted network at home or work.