Last week, Engadget revealed that several prominent VPN providers are misleading their customers and potentially putting their privacy at risk, using “fake server locations” to push traffic through entirely different regions.
Engadget’s research showed that numerous companies are telling their users that they’re connecting to a server in one country while they’re actually being routed through another country altogether.
This can be incredibly dangerous, and can have a negative impact on online safety and security. If you think that you’re connected to a region with tight data security laws but in fact you’re routed through another that has lax data security laws, this can put your privacy at risk.
In fact, Engadget found that, in one example, users who thought they were connected to Saudi Arabia were actually being routed through LA.
Why does this matter?
In the words of Engadget:
“Maybe you don’t care where your VPN’s server really is, just as long as it’s a secure service and your privacy is maintained. But for some people, honesty and accuracy about location is critical to the functions of their VPN service in the first place.”
Whether or not you consider accuracy of virtual location to be super important, what’s most shocking here is that users are being willfully misled about the service that they’re paying for.
If VPN providers cannot ensure that their servers are where they say they are, they should inform their customers of this. If you are paying for one service and not being provided with that service, that’s wrong.
But VPN providers actually can be sure that their virtual locations are accurate. We know, because we are sure that our locations are accurate, and that you’re connecting to a server in the country that you choose. We know, because we’re doing it right.
Here’s how we do it
SurfEasy offers dozens of virtual locations, or “regions”, for our users to connect to. What happens behind the scenes is that we use physical servers in these regions and we route our users through these servers. None of these are “fake server locations”. Our servers are in the countries that we say they’re in.
However, we don’t own these servers. Like many other VPN companies, we lease our servers. We find reliable servers in the countries that we wish to offer as virtual locations, and we pay money to be able to use them. This means that we can ensure the quality of the servers remains high, and also that if an issue arose with any of the servers, we could replace them with more reliable ones.
It also means that we can respond to user spikes quickly. Sometimes, when a large number of users download SurfEasy at once, the servers can become overwhelmed and service can slow down. By leasing servers, we can respond quickly to any spike in user numbers, ensuring that we have enough servers to ensure there’s no dip in speeds and that there’s no degradation of quality of service. We promise high-quality VPN service to our users and leasing servers lets us keep that promise.
However, having physical servers doesn’t ensure that our pool of IP addresses will also point to the chosen virtual locations. IP addresses can shift, and to ensure that our IPs point to the correct country, we have to engage in constant quality assurance processes.
We run tests every single day to ensure that our IP addresses are where we say they are.
Every day, we test the IP addresses and check their locations against the locations they’re meant to be pointing at. We might find issues with 10 IPs every couple of months. We fix these issues immediately.
We also cycle our IP addresses. Some services can find and block IPs used by VPNs, so we change up the pool of addresses we use and get fresh ones regularly. This helps us keep your service quality high.
Some smaller countries don’t yet have the infrastructure to be able to ensure the quality of service that we promise our customers. For this reason, we won’t offer these countries as regions, even if requested. This is because we refuse to compromise on our customer promises and we cannot be sure that we can maintain our high-quality service with these regions.
Why don’t all VPNs do it this way?
Well, there are a number of issues here. One is money. It’s cheaper and easier to run fake server locations like the ones mentioned in the Engadget article. More money saved means more money for the company.
It’s also about marketing. Some VPN companies claim that they have servers in 190 countries. This is next to impossible, but it’s a good selling point. Never mind that it’s totally false—users will still be encouraged to that VPN because of such a high number.
Another reason is staffing and resources. Here at SurfEasy, our team grows as our company grows. As we gain new users, we take on new staff and shuffle our organization around to ensure that we have the resources and time to maintain a high-quality service. Other VPNs don’t want to expand their team or spend more money. A smaller team means more profits for the CEOs.
We’re incredibly grateful that as the VPN industry grows, journalists like the ones at Engadget are working hard to show consumers what’s really going on under the hood. Here at SurfEasy, we pride ourselves on being transparent and honest, so we’re always happy to talk about how we do things and why.
Here’s hoping that other VPN providers will take up that challenge too.