Which VPNs keep logs? The short answer is all of them. 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 VPNs that claim to have “zero logging policies.” Let’s explore why.
VPN Data Logging and the “Zero Logging” Controversy
Even if a VPN claims to abide by a “zero logging” policy, it is virtually impossible to independently verify that they 100% follow their own policy. Even 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 VPN’s “zero-logging” 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.
A sketch of Ryan Lin during his trial in Massachusetts
If PureVPN truly did not log, 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 logging” 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 non-logging provider.
Because of this, the majority of VPN providers, including some VPNs that I recommend on this website, advertise that they abide by a “no logging” 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 log connection activity in order to enforce those limits. Even if a VPN provider did not log 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, there is a contradiction in the 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.
The Real Story of VPN Data Logs | What Matters
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 logging policy that keeps zero logs – because there are no VPNs that do this – look for VPNs that keep minimal logs and are transparent about it.
How to Find a VPNs REAL Data Logging Policy
I picked on Astrill earlier, so I feel like I owe it to them in stating that they 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 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.
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VPN Logging | Bad for Privacy?
Most reviews that we read online claim that all forms of logging are 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 logging you do NOT want your VPN provider to do. This includes the following:
- Logging the content of your communications
- Logging the websites that you visit
- Logging the services you use
- Logging your physical location
Minimal logging, 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 | VPN Logging Policies
Always remember that VPNs marketing a zero logging policy are blowing a lot of hot air. I would tell you to avoid any VPNs that claim to have zero logs…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.