Hotspotshield Under Investigation for Selling Its Users’ Private Data

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Based in the US, Hotspotshield was launched in 2008 by AnchorFree as a free VPN service that can be downloaded as an app or an extension for web browsers to help internet users surf the internet privately, securely and anonymously. Hotspotshield also provides users with tools to bypass geo-restrictions to unblock regionally restricted web content, such as: Netflix, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Pandora, etc. The company states that it has over 500 million customers worldwide especially among casual VPN users or beginners. They gained more popularity among Middles East protesters during the Arab spring.

In shocking news, Hotspotshield is under fire for compromising its customers’ private data and violating its privacy policy. the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), a nonprofit advocacy group for consumer privacy rights. The CDT has officially requested the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to launch an investigation against Hotspotshield “for engaging in unfair and deceptive trade practices”. The popular VPN service is being accused of selling out its customers’ traffic data to affiliated advertising websites. Here is an excerpt from the 14-page filing:

“The Center for Democracy & Technology asks the Federal Trade Commission
(Commission) to investigate the data security and data sharing practices of HotspotShield 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.”

As previously explained, user’s put their trust into VPN services to protect their private data from snoopers and attackers. The very fact that the service that you are paying for to keep you safe online is selling you out is largely disturbing. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Hotspot Shield CEO David Gorodyansky said:

“The technology we use to power Hotspot Shield is a proprietary VPN (virtual private network) since we saw that only businesses were using VPN’s for secure access to their corporate environments. Hotspot Shield was created from scratch specifically to be used by the masses. In the years since, we’ve responded to those who tried to replicate our technology by welcoming them into our industry. We offer many competitors the opportunity to create competing VPN products using our technology. Today, many large security companies use our technology to provide VPN services to their customers. We have surpassed 500M installs of our Hotspot Shield application and are on track to reach 1B by year end 2018. We are successful because we know what we’re doing is right and important to the world.” He added, “Given that AnchorFree is a mission-driven company, we never log or store user data. Our perspective is to protect the users not only from the bad guys like hackers, identity thieves, websites and ISPs, but to also protect the users from their (/our) selves. We believe the best way to protect user data is to not collect it.”

Up until now, there has been no comments from Hotspotshield regarding this issue.