NordVPN advert about public Wi-Fi was a byte too far argues UK ad authority

Image Courtesy: NordVPN

Popular VPN company, NordVPN, has been criticised by the regulator for UK’s advertising industry, ASA, for producing an advert that it says, exaggerate the risk of data theft without using their service.

The TV advert was aired earlier this year by the VPN provider and attracted nine complaints. The ad shows a fictitious character walking around in a train an handing over his personal information to other passengers while stating that he was a hackers’ best friend.

The character then said “Your sensitive online data is just as open to snoopers on public WiFi”.

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 NordVPN: HTTPS is a red herring

The service, which ranks second in our best VPN service buyers guide, rightly pointed out that HTTPS (AKA the little padlock) "did not mean the site was legitimate, nor was it any proof that the site had been security-hardened against intrusion from hackers".

Indeed, HTTPS could give a false sense of security to site visitors although one might argue that a VPN wouldn’t be a universal panacea to hackers.

It added that "most public Wi-Fi hotspots were considered insecure since the majority had very primitive security parameters and non-existent or very weak passwords available to everyone."

ASA’s view was slightly different as highlighted in their assessment of the case: “while we acknowledged that such data threats could exist we considered the overwhelming impression created by the ad was that public networks were inherently insecure and that access to them was akin to handing out security information voluntarily”, they said.

NordVPN is one of the biggest VPN players out there; over the past 24 months, it has embarked on a branding campaign that saw them sponsor Liverpool FC and roll out a TV campaign in the US.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.