The FTC is being urged to regulate VPN service providers

By now a Virtual Private Network (VPN) should be well known for anyone who wants to get around region locked content online, with the benefits of encrypted connectivity also being espoused by VPN service providers.

It is the latter element which has raised some eyebrows among Democrats in the United States, with an open letter being penned by Representative Anna Eshoo and Senator Ron Wyden to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking for greater regulation.

To that end, the Democratic Party members say that VPN service providers are falsely advertising the security aspects of their solutions.

“It’s extremely difficult for someone to decipher which VPN service to trust, especially for those in crisis situations. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of VPN services available to download, yet there is a lack of practical tools or independent research to audit VPN providers’ security claims,” wrote Eshoo.

“Interested consumers refer to online recommendations to select which VPN provider to trust, and many of the most frequently visited third-party review sites and blogs  profit from partnerships with specific providers. Even more troubling, some VPN review websites are owned by companies that also offer VPN services,” she added.

The pair also cite Consumer Reports research published in December last year, where the capabilities of the service is greatly exaggerated or misleading in some cases.

“Many popular VPN services also spread inaccurate information on their websites. In December 2021, Consumer Reports (CR) found that 75 percent of leading VPN providers misrepresented their products and technology or made hyperbolic claims about the protection they provide users on their websites, such as advertising a ‘military-grade encryption’ which doesn’t exist,” noted Eshoo.

“Advocacy groups have also found that leading VPN services intentionally misrepresent the functionality of their product and fail to provide adequate security to their users.  We’re highly concerned that this deceptive advertising is giving abortion-seekers a false sense of security when searching for abortion-related care or information, putting them at a higher risk of prosecution,” she continued.

While it remains to be seen whether the FTC will heed the call from both Democratic lawmakers, it looks like the pair are using the recent overturning of Roe v Wade as motivation.

“With abortion illegal or soon to be illegal in 13 states and severely restricted in many more, these abusive and exploitative data practices are simply unacceptable. We urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take immediate action under Section 5 of the FTC Act to curtail abusive and deceptive data practices in companies providing VPN services to protect internet users seeking abortions,” highlighted Eshoo.

“We also urge the FTC to develop a brochure for abortion-seekers on how best to protect their data, including a clear outline of the risks and benefits of VPN usage,” she concluded.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]


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