Whether it's for boosting up your privacy online or accessing censored sites and other geo-restricted content, you've likely come across security software known as virtual private networks.
Able to both encrypt internet connections and spoof IP addresses, the industry is packed with providers offering very similar products. Yet, the level of protection and security can vary dramatically among different VPN services. How to choose the right software, then?
The Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition)—a group of leading firms within the industry—launched the VPN Trust Initiative (VTI) in December 2019 to promote consumer safety and privacy online by strengthening companies' business practices. Now, as of September 26, 2023, the Coalition went a step further with the new VPN Trust Seal accreditation program which provides consumers with a clear and public indicator that a specific VPN provider meets these criteria in full.
VPN Trust Seal accreditation
"Now when VPN customers try to determine which providers align with their ethics, they can look for the VPN Trust Seal and gain some assurances about the commitments behind the products they are looking to purchase," said Christian Dawson, Co-Founder and Executive Director, i2Coalition.
The new initiative is, in fact, the natural progression of what the i2Coalition started in 2019 with the VTI. At that time, the industry-led consortium, including some of the biggest VPN firms out there (like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and Surfshark), rolled out a series of principles aiming to serve as a comprehensive set of best practices for companies within the sector.
There are five key principles that the Coalition's members agree on. These are:
- Security. VPNs are expected to use the necessary security measures, including strong encryption protocols, advanced security features, and a proactive approach to quickly react to issues as they arise.
- Advertising Practices. Providers need to make sure their promotion messages aren't misleading or over-promising. In fact, TechRadar already reported on the dangers of YouTube influencers selling VPNs.
- Privacy. Perhaps a foregone feature, recent data revealed that more than 70% of providers are breaching GDPR. As a rule of thumb, VPNs should collect as little information as possible to provide the service—and consumers should opt for a no-log VPN, whenever it's possible.
- Disclosure and Transparency. Member VPN firms are expected to take steps toward informing users and the public about their actions and procedures. Things like independent VPN audits are becoming the industry standard.
- Social Responsibility. VPN providers should show commitment to support access to the global internet and freedom of expression through the use of their technology.
These principles guided the Coalition to award the VPN Trust Seal badge to those services committed to protecting user privacy and security, offering practical guidelines to other providers, and ensuring that regulators can access the criteria to better evaluate these technologies.
We're proud to announce the inaugural group of VPN providers that have earned VPN Trust Seal accreditation.@expressvpn, FastVPN, @Golden_Frog, @thevpncompany, @IPVanish, @IvacyVPN, @NordVPN, @PureVPNcom, @strongvpn, @surfshark, @VyprVPNLearn more at https://t.co/vrVpbh4XFd pic.twitter.com/ExIXDZjYOoSeptember 27, 2023
Providers who earn the VPN Trust Seal accreditation will now display the badge on their websites to help users make informed choices.
According to NordVPN, this is more than a mere accreditation— it's a commitment to their users to keep striving for the best practices and standards. A recent NordVPN blog post stated: "In this digital epoch, aligning with ethical practices and gaining trust is not a choice but a necessity."
IPVanish also welcomed the news as a "significant milestone" in their ongoing commitment to provide users with the best VPN experience possible. And, for Surfshark, this is further confirmation that their privacy claims always represent their actions.
Sebastian Schaub, CEO at Hide.me, told TechRadar: "We have worked incredibly hard to ensure we are aligned with the VPN Trust Initiative Principles, and are proud to be one of the select few providers to receive the VPN Seal Trust. The privacy of consumers is at the heart of everything we do."
Other VPN providers can earn the VPN Trust Seal by joining the VPN Trust Initiative. Head on the i2Coalition website or reach out to Hilary Osborne at email@example.com for more information and to get the process started.
We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example: 1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service). 2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad. We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.
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Chiara is a multimedia journalist committed to covering stories to help promote the rights and denounce the abuses of the digital side of life—wherever cybersecurity, markets and politics tangle up. She mainly writes news, interviews and analysis on data privacy, online censorship, digital rights, cybercrime, and security software, with a special focus on VPNs, for TechRadar Pro, TechRadar and Tom’s Guide. Got a story, tip-off or something tech-interesting to say? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org