VPN companies promise improved privacy and security in exchange for a fee, and more often than not, they deliver exceptionally well.
Our downloads are a big part of privacy, so is that hidden from prying eyes, too? I’ve had my fair share of download woes and spent my nights researching, so you don’t have to! So, can VPN downloads be tracked?
VPN downloads are untrackable because any data you send or receive travels through a tunnel and hides the contents of the data. However, VPNs registered in certain countries or under police jurisdiction must reveal user internet activity upon request. VPN private policy determines their data use.
VPNs protect your privacy by hiding the nature of your downloads, although it can become a little messy when law enforcement gets involved.
Let’s explore what your VPN can do with your data, what your ISP can see, and law enforcement’s reach over your download privacy.
Can VPN Downloads Be Tracked?
When you spend time on the internet without a VPN, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can see the websites you visit, downloads you make, and when they occur.
However, when you use a VPN, it assumes the role of your ISP, preventing it from seeing what information you send and receive.
VPNs hide your identity by masking your IP address, a digital number that every device has that places you in a physical location.
Furthermore, the information you send or receive travels through a tunnel, masking it and preventing anyone from knowing what you send or receive.
When using a VPN, your ISP can see it, and they can even see the volume of data you use, but not the nature of the content.
For this reason, the only party who can see what you download is your VPN company, even though an ISP may be able to tell that you downloaded something by looking at the size of a file.
Are VPN Downloads Trackable?
While VPN companies can promise us increased online privacy, do the same rules apply to law enforcement?
Some VPN companies state that they do not log any of your internet activity, while others use misdirection to avoid telling you what happens to your data. In truth, your privacy is only as safe as the policies of your VPN company.
Police must get consent from your VPN company before they can examine activity logs, much like the FBI needs a warrant from the court before they can bypass the doctor-patient privilege between a psychologist and a patient.
However, this requirement differs mainly depending on which country the VPN company chooses to register its business.
What Is Your VPN’s Jurisdiction?
Regardless of what VPNs state on their website, a registered VPN in a location with stringent data retention regulations is required to store records.
Most premium VPNs do not track your surfing activities daily, but they can save connection logs, IP addresses, session information, and bandwidth use.
As a result, if your VPN service has its base in the United States or the European Union, it cannot claim to have a “no-logging” policy.
The popular VPN service Surfshark registers itself in the Netherlands, where there are no data retention laws. As a result, this would be a much safer VPN service than most other companies.
How Much Log Information Could A VPN Hand Over?
Some VPNs boast a “no-logging” policy, but it may not be entirely truthful. Examine their policy carefully because you might find that they make a habit of collecting user data. For this reason, it’s critical that you don’t overlook privacy policies.
If VPNs hand over logs due to jurisdiction, they hand over-usage logs that record visited websites. They also include connection logs that record connection times, user and VPN IP addresses, and data usage.
When VPNs have a genuine “no-logging” policy, they keep no record of your internet activities, except information for billing and troubleshooting.
In some countries, VPN companies have contracts with government agencies and work together with law enforcement.
For example, every VPN company that provides a service in the US adheres to CALEA (The Commission On Accreditation For Law Enforcement Agencies). They operate by keeping tabs on users’ data traffic flow.
How Can You Make It Harder To Trace Your Downloads?
VPN services can offer features that prevent users from mistakenly downloading without the VPN active.
A Kill Switch Acts As A Safety Net
There are two types of kill switch features that VPN services may offer, namely active and passive.
If you were ever to disconnect from your VPN without knowing it, the kill switch protocol detects the change in your network and tells your device to stop downloading. As a result, it protects it from using potentially dangerous networks.
The VPN kill switch feature does a few things to keep you secure:
- A VPN kill switch scans for changes in your network status or IP address in real-time, analyzing your connection to the VPN server.
- The kill switch function detects any disturbance in your VPN connection right away.
- Depending on your VPN service and settings, the VPN may disconnect your complete device from the internet or only block selected programs.
- When your VPN connection resumes, the VPN app’s kill switch is disabled, and your connection will instantly reconnect.
VPN downloads remain hidden from third parties unless the VPN is registered in a country where law enforcement has jurisdiction over data retention laws.