Why You Need a VPN on Your Smartphone

Using a VPN on your smartphone can boost your privacy in a big way, particularly with all the data tracking that’s happening out there today. 

For some time now, we’ve recommended a VPN when using public Wi-Fi in airports, libraries, hotels, and coffee shops. Given that these are public networks, a determined hacker can snoop on the other devices transmitting data on them. With a VPN, any connection becomes a secure connection, which includes public Wi-Fi. That advice still holds true. Yet there’s a good reason to use it on your smartphone all the time—for your privacy. 

Let’s start with a quick look at the two big things a VPN does for you. 

It makes you more secure. 

The bank-grade encryption used by a strong VPN shields your data and information while it’s in transit, which makes it terrifically difficult for hackers to spy on your connection. (Think of your data and information traveling through a tunnel that no one else can use or see into.) In that way, a VPN makes all kinds of online activities more secure—like banking, shopping, and checking up on your finances.  

It protects your privacy. 

By masking your whereabouts and your IP address, along with encryption that helps keep your activities private, a VPN reduces the personal information that others can collect and track. That includes internet service providers, social media companies, businesses, app developers, websites, and others who gather your data for marketing purposes or resale to third parties. 

Your smartphone, your privacy, and a VPN 

As far as your privacy is concerned, a VPN on a smartphone can be a smart move. There are a couple of reasons for that: first, because of the way smartphones have additional tracking technologies built in, and second, because of all the trackable data we create when using smartphones as frequently as we do—up to six hours per day for some. 

As for how your smartphone is built, data collectors can harvest your personal information that reveals what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, and where you’re doing it as well. Several technologies allow them to pinpoint where you are at any given time, such as GPS and location services, along with Bluetooth connectivity and location tracking based on which cell phone tower you’re connected to. Even scanning a QR code with your phone can reveal location information. It can all get rather precise, which is of interest to advertisers, businesses, and even governments. 

Next, think about all the activities you do on your phone, with a special emphasis on the apps you use and the data they create, about your health, your shopping habits, your travels, who you’re chatting with, and what content you’re posting online—just to name a few things. Once again, that information in and of itself is valuable to data collectors. It becomes even more valuable when they know where you do these things.  

Taken together, data broker companies readily gather this information from millions of devices, generating billions of data points, and creating massive lists of targeted information. And that information gets quite specific. With some data brokers collecting hundreds and thousands of data points per person, they can provide interested buyers with a high-resolution snapshot of who you are, where you live, who’s in your family, your income, where you shop, what you like to buy—right on down to your favorite shampoo. And that’s just for starters. 

It’s little surprise that all this data brokering activity fuels a global business estimated at $280 billion U.S. dollars a year. 

How’s this happening? In large part by way of the privacy policies you may or may not have read. 

Within those policies, device manufacturers, social media companies, app developers, and so on will detail what data they collect, under what conditions, what they do with it, and if they share or resell that data to other parties. However, if you’ve ever dived into the fine print of a privacy policy, what’s stated there isn’t always clear. Now consider all the apps you have on your phone and the privacy policies associated with each one—your personal data privacy picture gets even less clear. 

With digital data and information collection baked into so much of what we do online, it’s little wonder that more than 70% of people feel like their data privacy is out of their control. 

Yet there are things you can do. 

Protect your privacy on your smartphone with a VPN 

Using a VPN on your smartphone can make you far more anonymous online. A VPN can minimize the data that gets exposed as it transmits to and from your smartphone. As a result, companies and data brokers can potentially learn far less about you, your shopping, your travels, your habits, and any other information that they could possibly collect and otherwise profit from. 

While you have free VPN options available, I suggest steering clear of them. As with many “free” services, there’s going to be some catch, often involving data collection. For example, some so-called “free VPNs” have served up tracking malware or actually collected private data and information for sale—the very things you want a VPN to prevent.  

Given that this is your privacy we’re talking about, do a little background check. Has the VPN you’re considering been independently audited for security? The technology that powers ours undergoes a thorough audit every year. Search news articles and see if the VPN you’re looking at has a track record of collecting and selling data in any way. Again, with our VPN technology, we don’t log or track what you do online so your online activity remains private. ​ 

And a Personal Data Cleanup too … 

What about the information that’s already out there? Our Personal Data Cleanup can help you remove your personal information from high-risk data broker sites, so you can prevent it from being further collected and sold online. If you’re unsure if your data and information are out there, consider what one major data broker has touted in the past—a reach of over 62 countries and the ability to reach over 2.5 billion consumers globally. With 5 billion internet users today, that accounts for half of the world’s online population. And that’s just one data broker alone. 

Moreover, consider that data brokers acquire plenty of information from places other than your smartphone and other connected devices. They skim and collate public records associated with you, information purchased from retailers with loyalty card programs, not to mention census data, court records, and motor vehicle records. And that’s just a few of the many sources. Using our Personal Data Cleanup can help remove those sorts of records too.  

Getting more privacy on your smartphone 

Together, the combination of a VPN and Personal Data Cleanup can help you become far more private than before. With so much of our digital lives getting collected, tracked, and tabulated, often without our knowledge thanks to confusing privacy policies, taking control of your privacy makes sense and only gets easier to do thanks to the tools and services available to you. 

McAfee Mobile Security

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