The data that VPN providers record has become a popular topic when it comes to choosing the right VPN provider. The truth is that most VPN providers do record at least a small amount of data about connections that happen on their network (it certainly makes sense to do so) but a few newer VPN providers (like this one) have vowed to do away with logs altogether.
Though non-logging VPN’s are the minority, they are growing in number and some major VPN companies that used to keep logs have decided to get rid of them. The most notable example of this is IPVanish who hasn’t kept any logs since early 2014.
When it comes to choosing a VPN, you may naturally assume that the less data recorded the better, and to a certain extent that’s true. The truth is though, that the vast majority of VPN customers will experience no real difference or benefit from choosing a VPN that doesn’t keep logs.
In this article, we’re going to examine:
- The 2 types of VPN Logs (Activity vs. Connection logs)
- What data is recorded
- How long it is stored for
- Whether connection logs reduce your privacy
- Which VPN’s don’t keep any logs
- When you should (or shouldn’t) care about VPN logs.
There are 2 primary categories of VPN Logs:
The two major types of logs that VPN’s keep are activity logs and connection logs. Activity logs are a much greater invasion of privacy but thankfully pretty rare among VPN providers. Connection logs, by contrast, are relatively harmless and are generally kept for a short period of time (1-15 days) before being destroyed.
Activity logs are very detailed records of a users activities online. They may include information like:
- All websites visited
- All files downloaded
- Programs and protocols used (Bittorrent for example)
Thankfully very few VPN providers log this type of data.
The most common exceptions to this are free VPN providers who may keep extensive data logs in order to target advertising to their users or even sell usage data based on their customers’ preferences.
Activity logs are actually one of the major reasons that you might choose to sign up for a VPN. The reason? The company keeping the most detailed records about your online activity is probably your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
If you pay for internet access, the company you pay is known as your Internet Service Provider. In the United States, some of the largest internet providers include Time Warner, Verizon, Comcast, Charter, and AT&T.
By law your ISP is required to record data about your internet activity and keep that data for a minimum of 6 months. Some ISP’s keep activity logs for up to 2 years or more! In fact, if you haven’t been using a VPN, your entire internet history for the past 6 months is likely sitting in a data file on your ISP’s servers.
There is good news however…
If you use a VPN, your ISP cannot monitor or record what websites you visit or what files you download because all data transmitted from your computer will be encrypted!
The truth is that companies providing our internet service are also the largest threat to our privacy, but using a VPN for all internet activity will allow you to regain almost all of your online privacy. The only information your ISP can access would be the duration of your connection, amount of data transferred, and the IP address of your VPN server.
Interestingly, these is almost the exact same data that comprises a VPN connection logfile.
Connection logs are the type of logs most commonly kept by VPN providers. They are generally used only for the purposes of troubleshooting technical issues and also to prevent massive abuse of their network (for example by hackers or spammers).
A connection log usually consists of the following information:
- Timestamp of connection start/end
- IP address of your computer
- IP address assigned to you by the VPN server
- Amount of data transferred in bytes
Connection logs are usually only stored temporarily and then automatically destroyed. They are commonly kept for between 1-15 days depending on the VPN provider, though sometimes for as long as 6 months (HideMyAss does this). So if you’re VPN provider keeps logs for 7 days, they will always have information on your last 7 days of connections and each new day of data will overwrite the oldest days’ information.
From a privacy perspective, this amount of logging is only slightly intrusive. In order to trace your activity online, a person would have to start with your assigned (public IP address) and work back to your true IP address with the help of the connection log, but it would be virtually impossible to recreate your online activity by using a connection log for the reasons we examine below.
Do Connection Logs Make You Less Anonymous Online?
Connection logs to have an effect on your anonymity online. But only slightly.
The reason is that to trace your activity by using a connection log, the person tracing you would have to start with your public IP address and work backward. To figure out all the websites you had visited, they would have to contact every online website in existence and ask if they had a record of your IP address on their servers (this is obviously impossible) and they would have to do all this before the connection logs are recycled (1-15 days on average).
Their task would be made even harder by the fact that multiple (sometimes hundreds) of VPN users share the exact same IP address as you when connected to the same VPN server. The result is that it is almost impossible to trace any online activities on a VPN that keeps only connection logs (and shared IP addresses) back to their source (you).
As a result, VPN’s with connection logs of 15 days or fewer are essentially as anonymous as those don’t keep any logs at all.
Furthemore it is worth noting, that no one is likely to attempt to trace your online activity unless you are doing something blatantly illegal. (Something we certainly don’t recommend).
Which VPN’s don’t keep any logs?
Ok ok, so you share our opinion that you can never have too much privacy. Fortunately there are increasing number of VPN providers that are taking their users’ anonymity to the extreme by keeping no logs of any kind.
It is worth noting that while the United States requires ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) to keep extensive logs on online activity, these laws do not apply to VPN Providers. As a result, many of the leading “no logs” VPN providers are based in the United States.