On February 22, 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) published a blog post that provides tips on how consumers can use Virtual Private Network (“VPN”) apps to protect their information while in transit over public networks. The FTC notes that some consumers are finding VPN apps helpful in protecting their mobile device traffic over Wi-Fi networks at coffee shops, airports and other locations. Through a VPN app, a user can browse websites and use apps on their mobile devices, still shielding the traffic from prying eyes as it transmits via public networks.

In the blog post, the FTC highlights some of the security and privacy benefits of using VPN apps, such as the encryption of mobile device traffic over public networks and anonymization features that help mask that traffic is being sent directly from a particular user’s device. The post points out, however, some privacy and data security concerns associated with using VPN apps. For example, some VPN apps have been found to not use encryption, to request sensitive and possibly unexpected privileges and to share data with third parties for marketing and analytics purposes. For these reasons, the FTC suggests consumers research the VPN app before using it, and carefully review the app’s terms and conditions and its privacy policy to determine the app’s information sharing practices with third parties. The FTC also recommends that users remain aware that not all VPN apps will encrypt their traffic nor will they make it completely anonymous.