Is there such a thing as a zero log VPN? The short answer is no, there isn’t. In fact, VPN providers are lying to you when they claim they don’t log any user data. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the more you understand VPN logging, the better prepared you can be to secure yourself.
With good reason, VPN users want to use VPN services that guarantee anonymity and privacy. Naturally, the VPN services have picked up on this market trend and have begun to put bold claims on their marketing materials: “We don’t log anything!”
As we’ll learn, you should always be skeptical of a zero log VPN that claims to have a “no log policy.” Let’s explore why.
VPN Logging & the “Zero Log VPN” Controversy
Here’s the big problem with VPN logging policies: even if a VPN claims to abide by a “zero log” policy, it is virtually impossible to independently verify that they 100% follow their own policy. If they didn’t follow their own policy, it’s not often that companies get caught in this deception.
The VPN companies know this, of course, which is why you should always be skeptical when you first read about a zero-log VPN policy.
Take PureVPN for example. On their website, they claim that after you connect to any server, PureVPN will not “keep any records of anything that could associate any specific activity to a specific user.”
The story of Ryan Lin indicates otherwise. When Ryan was investigated by the FBI under suspicion of harassing, cyber bullying, and hacking, the FBI approached PureVPN after discovering he used the VPN service.
If PureVPN was truly a zero log VPN, they would have been unable to aid the FBI in their investigation against Lin. Instead, PureVPN was able to provide logs that revealed the IP address Lin used to carry out cyber threats.
- LESSON #1: VPNs always log some data. In this case, PureVPN logged data despite their claim that they “do NOT keep any logs that can identify or help in monitoring a user’s activity.”
- LESSON #2: A VPN is not a secret invisibility cloak that will allow you to conduct whatever illegal activity you want to without reprisal. Now, I certainly don’t condone Ryan Lin’s illegal activity. However, this highlights the blatant lie being told by PureVPN’s marketing team.
Why are VPNs Lying about VPN Logging?
The “zero log VPN” claim is one of the primary features demanded by VPN users. One reason for this is that most so-called “VPN reviews websites” tell people over and over to only sign-up for a VPN provider with a no log policy.
For this reason, the majority of VPN providers, including some VPNs that I recommend on this website, advertise that they abide by a “no log” policy.
But the fact of the matter is that ALL VPNs require logging at least some user data.
Think about it.
How can a VPN provider limit the number of simultaneous devices connecting to the service? You have to store connection activity in order to enforce those limits. Even if a VPN provider did not store user data, it’s quite possible that the owners of the third party servers leased by the VPN providers do.
Yet when you look further down the FAQs on the same page, there is a contradiction in the Astrill VPN logging policy that states:
So which is it? Do they keep logs or not?
I’m picking on Astrill here, but the same story could be shared for pretty much every single VPN service out there. You shouldn’t be asking yourself “Does my VPN log data?”.
No. There are two much better questions you should be asking.
Two Key Questions to Ask About a VPN
Instead of asking whether or not your VPN provider logs data, instead you should be concerned about two more important questions:
- What exactly does my VPN service log about me and my usage?
- How long do they keep those logs on file?
VPNs generally log user source IP addresses, VPN IP addresses, connection start and stop times along with the number of bytes used to track bandwidth.
The reason for this often has to do with customer support. In order to help people, they need to be able to generally see what they’re doing.
What’s scary, though, is that some VPN logs store a lot more data about you than you might imagine. This is particularly true of those pesky free VPNs, who often log things like:
- Websites visited
- Files downloaded
- Software, device or VPN connection protocols used (e.g. Netflix, Xbox, Bittorent, etc.)
VPNs that log this type of data are the ones you want to avoid.
Therefore, rather than looking for a VPN service that keeps no data logs – because there isn’t a zero log VPN that does this – look for VPNs that keep minimal logs and are transparent about it.
How to Find a VPN’s REAL Data Logging Policy
I picked on Astrill earlier, so I feel like I owe it to them in stating that they clearly mention on their FAQ page that they keep track of active sessions, connection time, IP address, device type, and duration of VPN session. They also promise to keep only a maximum of 20 records prior to deletion.
Quality VPNs should also have dedicated pages towards logging. On ExpressVPN’s website for example, (click here for my full review of ExpressVPN), you can see what information the provider does and does not collect (though I do feel ExpressVPN could be a little more transparent on the information they log).
If you still have doubts after this point, it’s best to sign-up for a different VPN.
VPN Logging | Bad for Privacy?
Most reviews that we read online claim that any type of user data stored by a VPN is bad for privacy. But is this an absolute truth?
While you certainly want to avoid a VPN service that logs too much of your Internet activity (particularly those free VPNs), minimal logging can actually benefit your user experience.
Let’s start with the type of data you do NOT want your VPN provider to keep. This includes the following:
- Keeping the content of your communications;
- Keeping the websites that you visit;
- Keeping the services you use;
- Keeping your physical location;
Minimal data storage, on the other hand, documents your source IP address, VPN IP address, connection start and stop time and the total number of bytes used while using the service. So how can minimal logging benefit you?
Generally, minimal logging helps VPN providers improve their service in terms of speed, network connections, and reliability. It also allows your VPN provider to troubleshoot any issues you encounter.
Other benefits to minimal logging include enhanced security in that VPN providers can use logs to spot spammers and DDOS.
After collecting minimal connection data, the best providers state how soon they remove or delete the data – usually within 30 days.
Final Thoughts | Myth of the Zero Log VPN
Always remember that a VPN marketing a no-log policy are blowing a lot of hot air. While I’m tempted to tell you to avoid any VPNs that claim they don’t log user data…but that would pretty much eliminate all of them!
All VPNs log user data and the true question you should try to answer is what gets logged, what are the logs used for, and how long will they be on file. I recommend you try out ExpressVPN and NordVPN, both of which offer advanced features in their software that give you control over how much data is logged.
What has your experience been with VPN logging? Do you care if a zero log VPN ends up logging some of your data?