Whether you’re new to VPNs or already know how they work, you probably heard about VPN logs at least once. VPN reviews and marketing copy like to mention them a lot, after all.
Don’t know what they are? No problem – in this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about VPN logs, and we’ll also mention which logs are ideal + why some VPNs keep them.
So What Are VPN Logs?
They’re records VPN providers keep about how people use their services. They might sound harmless, but they’re actually a pretty big privacy threat.
Because VPN logs can contain personally identifiable information.
VPN providers can keep two types of logs – usage logs and connection logs:
1. Usage Logs
These are logs that contain specific information about what you do with a VPN. They usually store data like:
- What websites you visit.
- What files you download and upload.
- Your IP address.
And all sorts of other metadata that ruins your privacy.
2. Connection Logs
These logs store technical data about how you use a VPN. Providers normally use these logs to troubleshoot and improve their service. Here’s the kind of information they contain:
- Connection timestamps (when you connect to a server).
- How long and often you use a specific VPN server.
- How much data you use while connected to the server.
All in all, connection logs sound better than usage logs. But they can still put your privacy at risk since they often store your IP address on top of everything else we mentioned.
Usage Logs vs. Connection Logs – Which Ones Are Better for Your Privacy?
It’s connection logs, right?
Sure, they might store your IP address, but they’re nowhere near as harmful as usage logs.
It might seem that way, but there’s actually a third, better option – no logs. Instead of storing any personally identifiable data, a VPN could keep none of it to really protect your privacy.
It’s obvious why that’s the best option – with a no-log policy, you never have to worry about your data getting breached or accidentally leaked. Even if the VPN gets hacked, has its servers seized, or is forced to hand over user data to the authorities, there’s zero risk since there’s no user data that could be compromised.
How Can You Be Sure a VPN Doesn’t Keep Logs?
Seeing “zero logs” plastered in their marketing copy isn’t really enough. The provider could say they don’t keep logs, and it might eventually come to light that they actually do. Or they might very confidently say they store zero logs, but the data center they use could go behind their back and keep IP logs.
So how can you tell the no-log claims are true then?
Well, here is what we like to do:
- See if the VPN provider has independent third-party audits (like VyprVPN does) that prove their service doesn’t store logs.
- See if the provider has legal documents (like court files) that can prove their VPN is log-free.
That does require a bit of work on your end. If you want an easier alternative, check trusted VPNs here. It’s a guide from ProPrivacy that outlines and compares the best no-log VPNs on the market.
Why Do Some VPN Providers Keep Logs?
Logging user data seems counterintuitive since most people use VPNs to avoid surveillance. So why do some VPNs keep logs?
Based on our research, it comes down to the following reasons:
The Law Forces Them to Do It
If the provider has their HQ in a country with mandatory data retention laws, they don’t have much of a choice. They need to log user data to comply with the law. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to run their business in that location.
That’s why most VPN providers establish their HQs in countries with favorable data privacy laws – like Switzerland, the British Virgin Islands, Panama, and Gibraltar. Even the US can be a safe location as long as the provider takes proper measures to protect their users’ privacy.
They Sell You Data to Third Parties
Now, you don’t really need to worry about this if you use paid VPNs. They don’t have a reason to sell your data since they already have a working business model.
But if you use a free VPN, things change. We’re not talking about providers that have a legit business model backing up their free plan (like ProtonVPN or Windscribe). We’re talking about VPNs that promise a completely free service.
Let’s face it – how would that even work? Running a commercial VPN isn’t cheap. There’s no way somebody could offer it for free. So they do the only thing they can to make money – sell user data. Hotspot Shield Free VPN was accused of doing that, for example, and had an FTC complaint lodged against them in 2017.
To Enforce Bandwidth Caps
If the VPN doesn’t offer unlimited bandwidth, they need to use connection logs to make sure users don’t go over specific bandwidth caps.
This is mostly an issue with free VPNs. Pretty much any paid VPN will offer unlimited bandwidth. The only time they might use logs to monitor bandwidth usage is when they need to check if users are eligible for a refund (in case they don’t offer a no-questions asked money-back guarantee).
How Do You Feel about VPN Logs?
Do you think VPN providers are justified to use them sometimes, or do they make using a VPN completely pointless?
Please tell us your opinion in the comments below. Also, if you know other ways to make sure a VPN doesn’t keep logs, please let us know.