Mobile VPNs are raising major privacy concerns as researchers find more than 50% of free VPN apps on Apple's App Store and Google Play are from Chinese developers or owned by China.
Simon Migliano, head of research at Metric Labs, which runs the Top10VPN portal, says researchers analyzed the top 20 free apps displayed in the search results for VPN in the App Store and Play Store within the UK and US. This ultimately led to a list of 30 apps, considering the overlap between the stores and locales, he explains in a blog post on his findings.
They found 59% (17 apps) had links to China and 86% had "unacceptable" privacy policies and "non-existent user support." Privacy issues discovered among VPN apps included lack of detail around logging policies, generic policies with no VPN-specific terms, no policy at all, and/or tracking user activity or sharing it with third parties. Several apps' privacy policies explicitly stated they share data with China, Migliano says, pointing to privacy issues.
"Our investigation uncovered that over half of the top free VPN apps either had Chinese ownership or were actually based in China, which has aggressively clamped down on VPN services over the past year and maintains an iron grip on the internet within its borders," he states.
More than half (55%) of privacy policies were "hosted in an amateur fashion" in free WordPress sites with ads or in plain text files on Pastebin. Sixty-four percent of apps had no dedicated website, and several had no online presence beyond their app store listing.
VPNs are among the most-searched apps in the world, with hundreds of millions of installs collectively worldwide, Migliano explains. Some of the most common with Chinese ownership, as acknowledged in his post, include TurboVPN, Snap VPN, VPN Proxy Master, X-VPN, and VPN 360.
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