Popular VPN Service Allegedly Puts Ads in Browsers

If you use AnchorFree's HotSpot Shield VPN app, a claim from the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) might give you pause. The non-profit advocacy group alleges the VPN is tracking users and filling their browsers with ads.

Credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty

(Image credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty)

The Register reports that the CDT has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission with a request to investigate.

"[T]he VPN has been found to be actively injecting JavaScript codes using iframes for advertising and tracking purposes," the CDT writes, pointing out that the VPN's security claims are contradicted by AnchorFree's own privacy policy. Additionally, the complaint suggests that the VPN can redirect HTTP requests to partner websites.

Update: 12:55 p.m. ET: AnchorFree issued a statement:

"We strongly believe in online consumer privacy," it reads. "This means that the information Hotspot Shield users provide to us is never associated with their online activities when they are using Hotspot Shield, we do not store user IP addresses and protect user personally identifiable information from both third parties and from ourselves. The recent claims to the contrary made by a non-profit advocacy group, the Center for Democracy and Technology, are unfounded. While we commend the CDT for their dedication to protecting users’ privacy, we were surprised by these allegations and dismayed that the CDT did not contact us to discuss their concerns. AnchorFree prides itself on being transparent about its data practices and would be happy to engage in a discussion to clarify the facts and better understand the nature of the CDT’s concerns. We are reaching out to appropriate groups and remain committed to defending the privacy and internet freedom of all our users."

Because the whole point of a VPN is to anonymize your web habits, this claim is worrying. It suggests HotSpot Shield collects IP addresses, location and other identifying information to sell to advertisers.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to figure out what exactly VPN providers do with your data. A lot of it is a matter of trust and picking through privacy policies with a fine-toothed comb. Sometimes, though, even that is not enough.

Until this is cleared up, we'd recommend steering clear of HotSpot Shield VPN. You can find the VPN apps we recommend here.

Andrew E. Freedman

Andrew E. Freedman is an editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming as well as keeping up with the latest news. He holds a M.S. in Journalism (Digital Media) from Columbia University. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Kotaku, PCMag, Complex, Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag among others.