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Why using Google VPN is a terrible idea

Posted on November 2nd, 2020 by in Articles & News.

Illustration of Google VPN data collection

 

If there has ever been a year that demonstrates how central the internet is to society, it is 2020. We have relied on the internet this year for work, entertainment, and to keep us close to family. But the freedom and privacy of the internet are under attack. We have seen authoritarian governments around the world, including in Hong Kong, Iran, Belarus, and many other places, increasingly clamp down on internet freedoms to maintain power against the will of their citizens.

We have also seen how Big Tech companies increasingly control every aspect of our lives, from what news we see to which apps we can use. As the recent US and EU antitrust investigations highlight, Big Tech companies use their market dominance to disadvantage competitors and further their control over the internet, putting at risk essential rights, such as privacy, freedom of speech, and democracy. Against this backdrop, the announcement of a Google VPN is even more troubling.

What’s wrong with Google VPN?

VPNs have long been essential online tools that provide security, freedom, and most importantly, privacy. Each day, hundreds of millions of internet users connect to a VPN to prevent their online activities from being tracked and monitored so that they can privately access web resources. In other words, the very purpose of a VPN is to prevent the type of surveillance that Google engages in on a massive and unprecedented scale.

Google knows this, and in their whitepaper discussing VPN by Google One, Google acknowledges that VPN usage is becoming mainstream and that “up to 25% of all internet users accessed a VPN within the last month of 2019.” Increasing VPN usage unfortunately poses a significant problem for Google, by making it more difficult to track users across the internet, mine their data, and target them with advertisements. In short, VPNs undermine Google’s power.

Products like ProtonVPN have long been a threat to Google’s business model because we stand for something completely different. Proton believes everyone should have access to privacy, security, and freedom. Our products and business model are centered on the concept of putting privacy first and giving users control over their online data. Whether it’s ProtonMail, ProtonVPN, or ProtonDrive, our mission has consistently been to prevent Big Tech companies from misusing your most private data for profit.

A Google VPN is a thinly disguised attempt to keep control over user data. By launching Google VPN, bundling it with Google One, and potentially preloading it on every Android device in the future, Google is essentially saying, “Since third-party VPNs prevent us from spying on internet users, we’re going to drive unsuspecting users to Google VPN so we can keep control of their data.” By leveraging its control over the Android platform and bundling Google VPN with other services, Google is leveraging its market dominance to the detriment of internet users, and engaging in the exact sort of behavior which is the subject of antitrust investigations in both the US and EU.

Google’s brazen claim that its VPN will be good for privacy is akin to claiming a Facebook VPN or NSA VPN would be good for privacy. It is imperative that we do not allow Google to redefine privacy as ‘privacy between you and Google.’ This only serves their abusive business model, which profits off surveillance and enables mass manipulation. If we let Google define privacy, everyone loses.

The risks of using a VPN by Google

While no VPN is a perfect privacy solution, there are specific risks to using Google’s VPN in particular.

  • Google’s new VPN will increase its ability to collect data on you. Any time you sign in to Google Chrome, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, or Google Drive, Google already starts tracking you. Any time you sign in to an app that is part of Google’s AdMob platform, it will be able to monitor your activity, and use this to help third parties gain insights to better target you. If that isn’t enough, by using Google’s VPN, you give Google direct access to ALL of your online browsing activity.
  • Google is based in the United States, meaning your data is vulnerable to US government surveillance. Google’s VPN is subject to the secretive FISA court and warrantless national security letters. Google is already a tool of surveillance for national governments; giving Google technical access to all your internet activity is a gift to the NSA and other spy agencies around the world. Even if its VPN does not keep user logs now, the US government could compel Google to begin collecting logs in the future.

The bottom line is that when you connect to a VPN, you are shifting trust from your internet service provider to your VPN provider. If you use Google’s VPN, you are placing your trust in a company whose business model is surveillance.

Don’t fall for privacy theater

This is not the first time Google has tried to assure its users it is concerned for their privacy. Last year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote an op-ed in The New York Times arguing that “privacy should not be a luxury good.” And much like the bad faith arguments presented in that op-ed, Google’s new VPN is nothing more than an attempt to pacify users into a false sense of privacy.

Unfortunately, there is still a large learning curve when it comes to VPNs. Many people don’t know how they work or how they protect privacy. Google appears to be counting on users’ ignorance. Many people may use Google’s VPN thinking they are protecting their privacy, when in reality, it gives Google the ability to collect even more data on them.

But there may be one positive thing about Google’s desperate entry into privacy tech: they know the tide is turning. The demand for privacy is growing, and despite what Google wants, the future will be more private. As internet users, we deserve the right to privacy because it is the foundation for a healthy society and functioning democracy.

Make no mistake, despite what they might claim, Google’s VPN is an attack on internet privacy. What we need is not an internet that puts Google first, but an internet that puts people first, and puts people in control over their data. We can all take a step toward this better internet by saying ‘No’ to Google VPN.

Best Regards,
The ProtonVPN team

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Andy is a founder of Proton Technologies, the organization behind ProtonVPN and ProtonMail. He is a long time advocate of privacy rights and has spoken at TED, SXSW, and the Asian Investigative Journalism Conference about online privacy issues. Previously, Andy was a research scientist at CERN and has a PhD in Particle Physics from Harvard University. You can watch his TED talk online to learn more about our mission.

Post Comment

18 comments

  1. Pastory Kristian massawe

    VPN is more helpful over weak networks internationally

  2. Erick

    I like this

  3. Mateusz Pusiewicz

    Thank you raising the awarness on what actually google is trying to do!
    Keep up great work Proton team! I absolutelty love your commitment to make this online world a better place! 👊🔥💪

  4. Richie Koch

    Thank you for your support Mateusz!

  5. Blake Van Valkenburg

    Good article and reminder, about Google’s true objectives and goals and their real moto “Be Evil” News reporting of Google’s contracts with ICE, Border Patrol, and private Detention Centers, aka “Concentration Camps” to provide Border Surveillance. Google will forever now be associated with Genocide and Murders.

  6. Desdemona

    jadi itu alasan mengapa anda melarang saya menggunakan vpn dari google
    Aku mengerti privasi
    Terima kasih protonvpn 🙂

  7. Richie Koch

    Kami tidak “melarang” Anda menggunakan Google VPN, tetapi kami ingin Anda memahami semua masalah privasinya. Terima kasih atas dukunganmu!

  8. Mohamed

    Thanks for the post, I’m with you guys google vpn should not be used by people let’s continue to educate people about that.
    Thanks .

  9. Richie Koch

    Don’t worry Mohamed, we’ll continue spreading the word.

  10. H

    Excellent write up. As a NetSec professional for the last 20 years, I try and educate family and friends on these issues. Now the Proton team should work on a Proton phone for the next project.

  11. Richie Koch

    Thanks for the kind words. VPNs can be tricky to explain to users that are new to tech, but given the amount of data you entrust them with, it is crucial that everyone understand exactly how they work and who is in charge.

  12. Jeffrey Tarman

    Great article. Absolutely nailed it. I don’t use your VPN, I use NordVPN. But I stress to everyone to use a trusted VPN with ZERO logging all the time. I’m sharing this article everywhere

  13. Richie Koch

    Thanks for helping us spread the word Jeffrey!

  14. Paull

    I really wait for this post about Google “VPN”. It is really a big joke to use VPN from this privacy invasive company like Google. Thanks for elaborating this topic Proton Team. More power!

  15. Jamrs

    Hi what internet browser should we use for privacy?

  16. Richie Koch

    We’ve looked at this in the past. Here is our assessment:
    https://protonmail.com/blog/best-browser-for-privacy/

  17. Jasper

    I never heard Google trash talking about ProtonMail. Why does ProtonMail feel the need to be so openly offensive against another company? It is rather unprofessional.

  18. Richie Koch

    Hi Jasper,
    We feel it is important that everyone understand the privacy risks they face online. Given the amount of data that VPNs have access to and the fact that Google’s business model revolves around monitoring its users’ every move, we felt we had to sound the alarm about the potential risks this VPN presents.

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