HotspotShield – a product that is offering a virtual private network (VPN) might be misleading users and playing unfair games. It is not completely clear though, but you should refrain from using this tool as the court proceedings are happening right now.
Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) insisted US federal trade authorities to examine the processes of this application. AnchorFree is a company that provides cyber security solutions to everyday users and one of the main products they are offering – HotspotShield VPN application. It should provide users with the ability to browser the web in incognito mode without possibility of being tracked. However, the center for Democracy & Technology have noticed that this tool is collecting private information about users and using it in inappropriate way. Here’s their statement:
The Center for Democracy & Technology asks the Federal Trade Commission (Commission) to investigate the data security and data sharing practices of Hotspot Shield Free Virtual Private Network (VPN) services, a product of AnchorFree, Inc. Hotspot Shield Free VPN promises secure, private, and anonymous access to the internet. As detailed below, this complaint concerns undisclosed and unclear data sharing and traffic redirection occurring in Hotspot Shield Free VPN that should be considered unfair and deceptive trade practices under Section 5 of the FTC Act… Hotspot Shield also monitors information about users’ browsing habits while the VPN is in use. While Hotspot Shield claims that “any browsing information or other similar information relating to your online activities transmitted by you to our servers when using Hotspot Shield is cleared after your VPN ‘session’ is closed,” it also deploys 23 persistent cookies and concedes that it works with unaffiliated entities to customize 24 advertising and marketing messages. It is unclear to what extent records of browsing 25 habits and other usage logs are attached to virtual, proxy IP addresses or other unique identifiers. 17. While insisting that it does not make money from selling customer data, Hotspot Shield 26 promises to connect advertisers to unique users that are frequent visitors of travel, retail, business, and finance websites. Moreover, these entities have access to IP addresses and 27 device identifiers collected via Hotspot Shield. Even if Hotspot Shield only provides “hashed” or “proxy” IP addresses to these partners, third parties can also link information about web-viewing habits while using the Hotspot Shield by cross-referencing cookies, identifiers, or other information.
Link to the official document: https://cdt.org/files/2017/08/FTC-CDT-VPN-complaint-8-7-17.pdf
As you can see, it is suspected that HotspotShield VPN tool is breaking its’ own rules. While it is supposed to provide you with privacy, it is tracking multiple criteria of your browsing habits and the tools your are using, even your IP address. This information can be sold to third parties so they could approach you with more targeted and personalised advertisements and offers. This tool is offered to all most popular platforms – Windows computers, Android smartphones and tablets, iOS devices and even comes as an extensions to the Google Chrome web browser.
So if you are using this service right now, we suggest to stop immediately. It all depends of what platform you are on – if it is Windows computer, just remove it from the control panel, if you use it on a web browser, make sure that the extension is disabled. Once the investigation will be over and the court will provide us with answers, you will be able to either continue using it or remove it for good. It is also smart to protect your computer against malware that can be implemented by advertisements, so you should consider using a reputable anti-malware application, such as Spyhunter.
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