Use this checklist to find a VPN you can trust

Blocks spelling out the word VPN
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When the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) met with several popular VPN providers at RightsCon in Toronto, Canada, , the companies and the non-profit organization worked together to formulate a list of questions that describe the basic commitments VPNs can make to signal their trustworthiness and reputation called the Signals of Trustworthy VPNs.

After all, it’s never been more important to know that the VPN you’re using is of a good quality and reputable. And, it’s always good to scratch beneath the surface a little and get a better insight into things; especially when it surrounds your online privacy and security interests. 

That’s why it’s always crucial to stick with a tried and tested brand of VPN, of which there are several including the likes of ExpressVPN, Pure VPN, CyberGhost, Surfshark and NordVPN too. The benefits of using a VPN certainly outweigh any negatives, allowing you to cover your movements online and boost your connected security too. 

Not everyone is entirely happy with being monitored online and this interest can come from corporations through to governments and all points in-between. Businesses just love to keep track of what you’re up to and even your ISP might well use data it collects from your online activity for its own benefit. Therefore, getting set up with a VPN makes a lot of sense and the reputable brands are keener than ever to explain why. 

To learn more about this partnership and how it aims to improve transparency among VPN providers, TechRadar Pro sat down with ExpressVPN’s Vice President Harold Li to find out more.

1. To start with, can you give us a brief overview of what the Center for Democracy and Technology is?

The Center for Democracy & Technology is a non-profit organization that advocates for laws, policies, and tools that protect the rights of internet users. We’ve developed a strong relationship with them given that we both share a passion for privacy, free expression, and the the power of the internet. The CDT has long been a trusted neutral expert on the VPN industry—perhaps best known for filing an FTC complaint against a VPN provider for its alleged data-logging practices and deceptive privacy policy.

2. Why did ExpressVPN choose to partner with CDT rather than with the likes of the more established EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) or others?

We support and work with a number of different digital rights advocacy organizations, including the EFF, Fight for the Future, OpenMedia, CDT, and others. In this case, the CDT initiated this effort due to their longrunning interest in helping consumers identify VPN providers that they can trust.

3. Why does the VPN market need a scheme like CDT's?

VPNs are a vital tool for anyone who cares about the privacy and security online, but actually choosing a provider that you can trust can be a daunting task. With dozens of providers to choose from, it’s easy for people to be overwhelmed or even to give up, leaving themselves vulnerable. This initiative provides important guidance, supported by an independent third-party, for consumers to evaluate which provider they can trust. 

I like to describe it as a nutrition label for VPNs, providing a baseline set of facts you can compare across various services, helping everyone choose the right VPN for their privacy and security. And just as a nutrition label can help you determine which peanut butter labeled “healthy” truly is better for you, these questions and answers enable you to better judge whether a VPN service that boasts “industry-leading security” truly deserves that label.

4. The list of commitments is listed as being the basic version. Can you give me some examples of what else can be added to make it more complete?

Absolutely, this initiative just establishes a baseline for what we consider trustworthy VPN providers should do and disclose. At ExpressVPN, we believe that we can do a lot more to earn user trust, such as through our track record of advocacy for digital rights and support for associated organizations, innovation in the industry such as our open-source leak testing tool suite, and sharing detailed information about how we work every day to protect our users. The ExpressVPN Trust Center, for example, features extensive additional detail about our security practices, above and beyond what the CDT project calls for. 

5. Who are the four other VPN providers you are working with on CDT? Has CDT's invite been extended to other VPN providers? If yes, what has been the feedback?

The other VPN providers who are part of the initiative so far are IVPN, Mullvad, TunnelBear, and VyprVPN. There’s absolutely an open invite for anyone to participate in this project. We want to raise the bar for security and privacy practices in the consumer VPN industry as a whole, so the more participants the better!

6. Why should VPN join CDT's scheme and how can they do it if they choose to?

A VPN industry with higher standards and better informed consumers ultimately means a more secure and private internet for everyone—and I certainly hope that any VPN provider can agree with that goal. VPNs looking to join the scheme should reach out to the CDT.

Key takeaways

As Harold Li from ExpressVPN points out in these answers, the need for collaboration and co-operation between VPN providers remains as important as ever. What’s more, making use of the power that comes with using a VPN has never been more vital either. Signing up for a VPN subscription from one of the better-known names in the marketplace really will help prevent any snooping while you’re online. 

Staying safe and secure, as well as not being seen on the internet isn’t just a home or business-focused matter either. We’re all much more mobile these days and the ability to log into wireless networks wherever we end up has never been easier. At the same time, that can present you with a conundrum as to whether or not you should make use of free Wi-Fi connectivity. It’s easy to become a little blasé about connectivity and rocking up to a coffee shop and simply selecting the best looking Wi-Fi network is a classic way of getting into trouble. 

So, by investing in a decent VPN you can help you improve the security of your computer, laptop or mobile device, while also shrugging off any snoopers that might be out there in internet-land. Of course, using a top-quality VPN isn’t going to rid your computer equipment of all threats though. It’s still ridiculously easy to have your kit compromised by the likes of ransomware as a quick example, which is a hugely prevalent threat. 

Therefore, alongside taking on board the comments above and investing in a solid VPN, be sure to get yourself one of the best antivirus software packages you can find. Again, there is plenty of choice and there’s also something to suit any kind of budget. Ultimately, when it comes to a VPN and antivirus protection, the secret is to buy the best you can afford. It’s never a good idea to skimp on security, right?

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Rob Clymo

Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.

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