The Trouble with VPN and Privacy Review Sites (and conflicts of interest)

I wanted to do a post on VPN’s because of fundamental issues related to privacy. Adblocking (along with other measures to avoid browser fingerprinting/cookies) are required in consonance with this. A virtual private network won’t solve my “privacy problems”, but the service providers have gone too intrusive.

Location-based access has become too pervasive, and most users don’t realise the technology behind serving you advertisements. More importantly, your browser fingerprints and location are adjudged to serve you higher prices if the algorithm determines that you are likely to “affluent”. Ultrasonic beacons (embedded in the smart networks) tracks your mobile.

There’s a massive problem in the privacy world. Websites, social media accounts, and other platforms are constantly popping up out of nowhere, telling you to buy The Greatest Service Ever in order to solve all your privacy woes, whatever that may be. These websites often employ marketing teams to make sure their “reviews” are what you see first when you begin your research. Some of them are even operated by VPN providers themselves, operating under anonymous business entities to hide their bias, or doing it right out in the open, hoping you’ll mistake their advertising-filled press releases and blogs as insider knowledge of the VPN space.

When a seemingly “unbiased review” on a site is merely a paid advertisement in disguise, that website is breaking their reader’s trust. From a consumer’s point of view, affiliate marketing and other paid promotional techniques like this make it near impossible to know when a review is genuine or not.

This isn’t going to be a lengthy blog post on advertising being bad, far from it. In fact, many of the VPN providers we recommend engage in responsible advertising across various platforms. The key is transparency: Their advertisements should look like advertisements, and nothing else.

VPN reviews are a significant hassle. I have gone through several providers, and I recommend Mullvad (and a close second WireVPN). I am a stickler for efficiency; WireGuard is an exciting protocol that connects almost instantly. The reason I prefer Mullvad is that it works without much user intervention. ProtonVPN is interesting, but you are basically financing the freeloaders on their platform. I don’t necessarily agree with their stance on many issues; especially that their service is for “whistleblowers”. Those are incredibly naive (and stupid) claims because unless someone takes great lengths to wipe off the data trails, it is usually possible to do a deep dive forensic investigation to identify the individual.

Occasionally, these recommendations are coupled with a “review” that is supposedly independent and unbiased, but in reality are simply more marketing tools to persuade you towards their opinions. In most cases, these reviewers will simply copy the VPN provider’s own press releases and even media, presenting their advertising as fact to their readers. These reviews are always hidden away as well, with main navigation links directing users towards the more affiliate-link-laden lists and tables that they’d much rather you browse. The true value of these review articles is the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) advantage they bring in the rankings on Google, and not much more. More traffic = More clicks, at the expense of good, independent content and integrity.

Do you now notice how “conflicts of interest” are such a naive idea? Does it change anything on the ground or will people weigh your opinion suspiciously? No idea.

It is usually possible to see parallels with the real world and academia.

via The Trouble with VPN and Privacy Review Sites