Is Google VPN worthy of your trust?
As Google VPN confidently debuts on the market, many remain skeptical about this new business venture. On paper, Google’s decision to supply a privacy-friendly alternative delivers a hopeful message. However, it would be rash to jump on this bandwagon without considering Google’s position as a big tech leader. After all, it is the biggest data aggregator, an advertising company supplying insights to thousands of third parties. Furthermore, Google’s overwhelming data mining is one of the unsavory practices consumers try to escape using a VPN. Thus, let’s examine Google VPN and its compatibility with users seeking privacy online.
What is Google VPN, and how it came to be?
Google VPN surfaced as a free addition to the 2TB and higher tier plans on Google One. At first, the new Android-based feature will be available only to subscribers in the US. However, Google promises broader device support and will expand its services to clients in other countries.
Nevertheless, Google VPN is not a free service in any shape or form. It is solely for Google One subscribers paying for larger storage plans. The price of the Google One cloud storage services vary by country. Thus, you might need to check the price plans available to you. The chances are, you might pay anywhere from $10 to over $200 a month. Unless you opt for annual subscriptions, which might cost less long-term.
The relatively sudden appearance of Google VPN might come as an ironic surprise. However, it is not the first time Google dips its toes into this market. In 2018, Google tested the waters by supplying a VPN to clients of its mobile virtual network operator (Google Fi). The recent launch of Google One VPN marks the company’s decision to tap into a global market. It becomes less astonishing after considering the forecasted growth for the VPN industry. If anything, it resembles a strategic move towards a promising market.
How do VPNs work?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a tool aimed at making netizens’ digital lifestyles more anonymous and secure. It achieves this goal by funneling your web traffic through an encrypted tunnel. Thus, it scrambles information on your activities beyond recognition and wraps it in a security blanket fending off a range of snoopers. Therefore, a VPN became a global phenomenon and is applicable in many scenarios:
- Stopping unwanted data collection
- Protecting data from hackers
- Bypassing geo-blocks
- Fighting censorship
- Staying safe on public Wi-Fi
- Minimizing digital footprints
However, the relationships between VPN service providers and users rely heavily on mutual trust. Once you connect to VPN servers, your activities traverse through them and limit the overreach of massive data gatherers. Nevertheless, VPNs are in an ideal position to perform activities you attempted to escape in the first place. Thus, for you to use a VPN service confidently, the provider needs to be trustworthy.
For Google VPN, this requirement might be a significant setback. The trust in big tech has decreased rapidly throughout the years. According to a YouGov survey, 40% of respondents doubt that tech giants manage their data lawfully. Only 13% of participants expressed their trust in Google. Hence, this lack of credibility might be the main obstacle for its VPN services.
What might concern you with Google VPN?
Ultimately, it all comes down to whether consumers are comfortable having a data aggregator as their VPN service provider. For one, Google has tried to be transparent about its VPN design. It claims that it will not track, log, or sell data related to users’ activities. Google will also present third-party audit results, essentially evaluating the service and its log-free nature. The tech giant has also open-sourced Google VPN code running on consumers’ devices. In the future, it pledges to do the same with the server-side user authentication system. However, it remains unclear how the VPN works under-the-hood, meaning that it could log and extract data. Thus, it leaves many questions about the server-side of this mechanism.
However, big tech’s career launch in the privacy-oriented field can be alarming on its own. Google’s competitive business model has always been its driving force, leading to a number of antitrust lawsuits. Moreover, Google has a history of allegedly collecting data when it is not supposed to. It faces a $5 million lawsuit for accusations, claiming that it invades people’s privacy in incognito mode. Additionally, experts and federal agencies highlight Google’s unethical data-sharing practices. Thus, millions of people look for alternative search engines and browsers, freeing them from Google’s all-seeing eye.
A Google VPN, regardless of proclaimed privacy-first design, is a service belonging to big tech. Since more consumers decide to turn their backs on such companies, allowing Google to manage your web traffic is a big red flag.
Why Google VPN might not be for you
Google VPN might not work as a traditional VPN. By traditional, we mean that users can choose servers and tweak their experience with additional mechanisms. Essentially, it seems to be a toggle button you can turn on and off. The simplistic design can have its appeal. However, Google VPN might be ineffective if you want it to unblock geo-restricted content. Since there are no mentions of available locations, it is likely you won’t have the control over your IP address. Therefore, it won’t be the tool fighting censorship or expanding users’ reach online.
The mixed reception of Google VPN is the direct result of the overall mistrust people feel towards its owners. It is natural to be skeptical about giving Google full access to your web activities. Thus, if you feel like this feature only extends Google’s reach into your life, skip it. It is better than nothing as far as security goes. However, Google VPN isn’t the optimal solution in terms of privacy.
To sum up, Google VPN wants you to believe in it as a reliable privacy tech. For many, taking a leap of faith with a company that works as a massive tracker will be unimaginable. Others might find its services tempting, especially Google One subscribers. The premise here is that you should always trust your VPN service provider. If you cannot tick this box with Google, turn to more dependable services. It is essentially the same as if your ISP hit the market with its twist on a VPN. If you try to escape its clutches, it might not be the entity genuinely trying to protect you.
Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.