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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, the company 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

46 comments

  1. JaqiC

    I purchased ProtonVPN & use on several Apple electronics. Unfortunately a 100% immoral criminal hacked into my iPhone & produces signs he is reading everything – & most likely stealing information. He hacked into my bank acct. He is a programmer who lives in SanFrancisco who somehow found me on twitter, which I have not logged into in 11 months. Nothing I attempt to use blocks him. Do Proton engineers have a scan disc type of program to identify criminally imbedded code onto Apple products? Desperate in US.

  2. Richie Koch

    We’re sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, we do not have any product that can scan your iPhone. If you suspect that your device has been compromised, you should take it to an IT security professional to be inspected.

  3. William Porter

    I’m totally on board with ProtonMail and looking forward to setting up ProtonVPN. But I’m wondering about this article. The heart of the argument seems to be GOOGLE CANNOT BE TRUSTED. I agree. But that’s about it, right? We don’t have technical inside knowledge proving that they’re using Google VPN to spy on people, or do we?

  4. Richie Koch

    Hello William,
    Yes, that is correct. At the moment, we have not yet subjected the Google VPN to a thorough, technical examination. We simply want to point out that Google’s business model is predicated on continuously monitoring its users so that it target them with ads, which contradicts the idea they it wants to protect your privacy with a VPN.

  5. Meta

    Google have already been fined $57 million for SEVERE GDPR VIOLATIONS by French authority CNIL.
    Google are not an internet search company; they are an AI tracking company.
    DO NOT GET Google VPN. This would be like fitting CCTV’s in your home that broadcast live to the world.
    Even if you don’t use any Google products directly, they’re still tracking you. Google track you everywhere you go on the internet, and Google runs most all of the ads you see across the internet and in apps. If you use Android (Google owned), then Google is also tracking:
    • Every place you’ve been via Google Location Services.
    • How often you use any apps, when, and where you use them, and who you use them with.
    • All of your text messages to everyone and all your photos including one’s you have deleted

    If you use Gmail, they have all your emails to read. If you use Google Calendar, they know your full schedule. With all Google products (Hangouts, Music, Drive) it’s the same level of tracking; if you use Google Home they have live recordings of every command you or others have spoken. Google continues to track location data even after a consumer has turned off the setting! 
    It’s exploitative to the extreme. By allowing Google to collect all this info, you are allowing hundreds of thousands of advertisers to bid on serving you ads based on your sensitive personal data. Everyone involved is profiting from your information, except you. You become the product.
    Google is between 5-10x ahead of its nearest competitor in every stage of the digital advertising supply chain — where Google both creates the market and makes the market.
    Privacy is about controlling your personal information. You don’t want it in the hands of everyone, and don’t want people profiting from it; abusing it or stealing it for fraudulent use.
    Privacy is essential to democratic institutions; voting, medical care, financial online transactions; because at an individual level, a blatant lack of privacy leads to:
    • putting you into a filter bubble that’s hard to get out of
    • always getting manipulated by ads and discrimination
    • high risk of fraud and identity theft
    On a societal level, it leads to
    • deepened polarization and societal manipulation (like seen recently)
    • Researched by D. C. Schmidt, Professor of Computer Science at Vanderbilt University:
    • A dormant, stationary Android phone (Chrome browser active in background) communicated location information to Google 340 times during a 24-hour period, or an average of 14 data communications per hour. Iocation information constituted 35 percent of all the data samples sent to Google. -A major part of Google’s data collection occurs while a user is not directly engaged with any of its products. The magnitude of such collection is significant, especially on Android mobile devices, arguably the most popular personal accessory now carried 24/7 by more than 2 billion people.

    The worlds citizens have a fundamental right not to be secretly tracked, tagged, monitored, or psychologically profiled where secret services then gather that info in order to decide who is a threat to democracy; when these very actions themselves are a threat to democracy.
    Wake up Neo…
    There are alternatives to Google:
    Proton mail will protect (encrypt) your email and contacts unlike Gmail, whilke Proton VPN will protect your IP address unlike Google VPN
    Firefox browser is safer than google chrome browser; and search providers like startpage or duckduckgo.
    Openstreetmap can be used instaed of google maps, and Resilio Sync can be used instead of Google drive.
    iOS can be use instead of Android; and Fathom, or Simple Analytics can be used instead of Google Analytics.

  6. Caroleann

    I’m just learning about this. There are thousand more who need to learn.

  7. Dooku

    TY for much needed article! Keep them up! Google is a cancer of free Internet.

  8. Me

    When will your VPN be available for Chromebook/chrome OS users ?

  9. Richie Koch

    The Chromebook app has been released!
    https://protonvpn.com/blog/unlimited-chromebook-vpn/

  10. Joseph

    Telling the truth is neither trash talk nor unprofessional. If anything that was written is false, show us your evidence. Google’s motto used to be “don’t be evil”. You’ll notice they don’t say that any more. I wonder why?

  11. Lacey

    Thank you for shining a light on this. What Google, FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. are getting away with is very disturbing!

  12. Henri

    Jasper, I think its obvious that they explained themselves and the issue very clearly in the article. If you truly do not know and understand how Google tracks and uses data for it’s own ends then it’s time you did. There many arguments around, “they all do it, get over it”, but supporting such views would be facile and simply demonstrating laziness for the love of convenience.
    Research wisely and you will be prepared.

  13. d f

    I also vote for a Proton-Phone…

  14. Bob

    You just had to get Iran in there, now didn’t you? SALUTE THE FLAG!!!

  15. Truth seeker

    “We have seen authoritarian governments […], increasingly clamp down on internet freedoms to maintain power against the will of their citizens”.
    Are you sure?
    All their citizens?
    Lol. You’re just clowns.

  16. Metin

    Hello. I use DuckDuckGo. Now saying do not use Google VPN. Can you make a link to use what you suggest Many people are like me not good with hitch tech. Just give link what to do make it easy for people like me . Thank you
    Metin

  17. Ava Rose

    Thank you so very much Proton Team. I have been spreading the word about Protonmail and the services you offer. Along with DDG (Thanks Dax). I am constantly reviewing everything I do online. Thanks again! I’m off to do more “word spreading” lol

  18. Tanya

    Richie, I couldn’t agree with you more. Jasper is likely just another Google internet troll; either an employee of the company or a Google user living in denial of the threats Google poses to user’s privacies. It is unbelievable to see how many people out there blindly believe that Google is so benevolent, and not only that, how many people don’t realize Android = Google! It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I put the two together myself, and have ran from all things Google ever since. Thank you Proton, for helping to alert the public to the risks to user privacies when using all things Google! That company is clearly hellbent on global domination. Kind of like China… isn’t it ironic that Google puts out these so-called privacy options and tools to give their users a sense of privacy, when all it really does is act as a façade that Google cares about protecting their user’s privacy, when really it does everything but? That should leave anyone that cares about internet freedom and privacy concerned. As long as we have companies around like Proton and others of the like, this should not happen as people become more educated on these threats to internet freedoms and privacy, but as powerful as Google and other big tech companies have become, it will be an uphill battle, but a battle that can be won as more and more people are educated and made aware of the threats to personal freedoms and privacies that these big tech companies pose.
    P.S. I was brought here via Duck Duck Go’s weekly privacy-focused email letter. It is my opinion that anyone that cares about their online privacy should not only use a trust-worthy VPN like Proton, but also a privacy-friendly mobile browser such as Duck Duck Go, where they stop online trackers dead in their tracks! No pun intended! 😉

  19. Gerald

    How to check if we have inadertantly allowed google vpn

  20. Richie Koch

    Hi Gerald, Google’s VPN is a currently only a feature for Google One users. So unless you are paying for your Google account, you do not need to worry about accidentally using Google’s VPN.

  21. Ssg

    Thank you for posting this… However, the sad thing is that the people who read this blog are already people who understand privacy online… Other internet users should also know about this new Threat online disguised as a vpn. I’m sharing this post To spread awareness..

  22. Katherine

    After installing the latest update on my Apple iPhone I noticed that I have a VPN that is active I didn’t even know what that was until I read your article. Am I able to just turn it off and still use my phone in the matter I am used to? Thank you for this information you have posted Katherine

  23. Richie Koch

    Hello Katherine, you can disconnect the VPN at any time by opening our app on your iPhone and tapping the “Disconnect” button at the bottom menu.

  24. Dolphin Duck

    either you didn’t read it all or you don’t understand it, this great article explain why google vpn is not a great vpn as they collect your data to push ads that you mostly click. Now probably your grandpa or your uncle won’t care about their privacy if they were looking for new or product or your wife or girlfriend if they are looking for netflix show that is only available in different region But some people use VPN to protect their data and where it goes and some people needs that privacy. so sum it up, Richie hasn’t “trash talked” google at all rather he explain what google do with your data ( which any person who use google and get annoyed by its ad following them all the time and all the websites) and how it’s VPN can’t be trust worthy for your money nor your data, unless you don’t care and like to be watched on every click, every website, every page and gets dumb ads on it. “spooky”. thanks for reading my ted text.

  25. Edwin

    Wow Jasper, where have you been hiding out for the last couple of half-decades?
    Big “G” is ABSOLUTELY out to control access to our surfing habits, and the idea of a Google VPN service in the interests of “maintaining our privacy” is laughable at best. So, it is more than appropriate for the Proton team to to be openly critical of Google VPN.
    Call it for what it is — a sham and an offense to individual privacy on the Internet.

  26. Culiacanazo

    Wow, this Jasper-kind of people is exactly why the whole thing is going down the toilet!

  27. H

    I agree with the Google part.

    Notice that any VPN service only changes your visible IP address and that does not make you anonymous to trackers. You are fingerprinted by other browser leaks.

  28. Win

    I like your ethos that’s why I, with you 👍🏽Keep moving forward.

  29. Pastory Kristian massawe

    VPN is more helpful over weak networks internationally

  30. Erick

    I like this

  31. 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! 👊🔥💪

  32. Richie Koch

    Thank you for your support Mateusz!

  33. 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.

  34. Desdemona

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

  35. Richie Koch

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

  36. 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 .

  37. Richie Koch

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

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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

  41. Richie Koch

    Thanks for helping us spread the word Jeffrey!

  42. 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!

  43. Jamrs

    Hi what internet browser should we use for privacy?

  44. Richie Koch

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

  45. 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.

  46. 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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