Can you be tracked when using a VPN?

Can you be tracked when using a VPN?

These days it is almost impossible to remain completely private online. That is why virtual private networks (VPNs) are becoming popular as people try to find ways to avoid digital spying, invasive advertising, and data collection. But can you be tracked when using a VPN? This is a popular question, and we will answer it in this article.

What Is Tracking?

Tracking is the way websites monitor our online behavior when we visit them to improve the browsing experience. This is not illegal, and apparently, over 79% of websites use trackers to collect our data. 

Besides improving the user experience, websites also track us for other reasons. For example, some websites sell the data they collect to advertisers. Also, businesses may rely on website analytics to measure performance and inform their content strategies. 

Can You Be Tracked when Using a Vpn?

No, it won’t be easy to track your online activities as long as you are using a reliable VPN. This is because it encrypts your data, conceals your IP address, and routes your traffic through intermediary servers. The ISP will only see the VPN server’s IP and gibberish, which helps to maintain your anonymity. 

Remember that your internet service provider (ISP) will know that you are using a VPN. However, it won’t see your private information, such as your browsing history, the websites you visit, or the files you download. 

The best option is a premium VPN, where you must purchase a subscription. On the other hand, a free VPN may be enticing because you don’t have to pay anything, but you shouldn’t fall it. Most free VPNs don’t employ necessary security measures, and you will still be tracked. 

How Are You Tracked 

Below are some of the common ways we are tracked on the internet. 

Malware 

A VPN only safeguards your online data but cannot protect your device from malware infection. However, some VPNs offer a firewall that blocks connections to malicious domains. Unfortunately, this is not enough to stop malware because you can accidentally click a phishing link or download a malicious file. 

A hacker can use a malware to monitor everything you do. This includes browsing history, files you save on your hard drive, passwords you type, and more. 

One of the best measures to prevent malware infection is robust anti-malware software. Also, you can use password managers, enable two-factor authentication, and install a script blocker. 

Cookies 

Cookies are digital data that websites insert on your device when you visit them. Usually, they are harmless and help in improving your experience on the site. However, some cookies are persistent and bad for your privacy because they allow advertisers to track your online behavior and preference. 

Unfortunately, a VPN cannot track cookies due to how they work. After all, it isn’t designed to intercept the files you download. 

The solution is to delete cookies whenever you use a VPN. Also, use the incognito/private mode in your browser, as it will automatically clear cookies when you close the tab. 

Digital fingerprinting 

Websites use this accurate tracking method to monitor your activities by linking your behavior patterns. It works by assigning you a unique identifier every time you visit a site. The fingerprint contains vast data from screen resolution, time zone, OS version, web browser, system fonts, etc. 

Unfortunately, a VPN won’t stop websites from tracking your activities with digital fingerprinting. Also, because of how it works, you cannot stay completely safe from fingerprinting unless you want to go off-grid. 

Thankfully, you can take measures like installing an anti-fingerprinting browser extension or using the Firefox browser as it blocks fingerprinting resources. Also, disable JavaScript and Flash in your browser. 

DNS and IP address leaks 

Some VPNs route your DNS requests and IP address outside the encrypted tunnel, which can compromise your privacy. That is why choosing a VPN provider with DNS/IPv6 leak protection is advisable. 

Social media 

Anyone can track you if you post your private information on social media like phone number, email address, etc. Remember that a VPN won’t protect data if you voluntarily make it public.  

The solution is to avoid sharing your identifiable information on your social media platforms. Also, don’t reveal your whereabouts to random people on the internet. 

Who can see that you are using a VPN?

Not everyone online will see that you are using a VPN. Below are some entities that can access this information and how they do it. 

Who: 

  • Websites and apps like Netflix 
  • Your internet service provider (ISP) 
  • Hackers 

How: 

  • Some websites and apps won’t allow you to access their services when using a VPN. They have a database of VPN IP addresses and will block your connection if they see you are using them. 
  • Although a VPN will encrypt your connection and reroute your traffic through its servers, your ISP can see you are using a VPN. This is because your IP address will seem different, and your traffic is encrypted. 
  • Hackers can easily intercept your traffic and steal your data, especially when on an unsecured network. However, this cannot happen if you are using a VPN. 

It isn’t bad for your ISP or other online services to see that you are using a VPN. After all, they can’t view your online activities. 

Can you conceal your VPN traffic?

Some VPN services have obfuscated or stealth servers that hide your VPN traffic. This is great for bypassing VPN blocks and staying under the radar even in countries that restrict VPN usage. 

Can I use a free VPN to protect my privacy?

No, you shouldn’t. This is because most free VPNs aren’t safe and will not protect your privacy. Running a secure VPN infrastructure requires enormous investment and resources, which free VPNs don’t have. In fact, one of their primary sources of revenue is selling your data to advertisers and marketing companies. 

Some free VPN apps are highly invasive and collect a lot of your private information like online habits, visited sites, and purchases. Others even have your personally identifiable data such as phone number, full name, and phone number. So, avoid free VPN options if you don’t want to be tracked online. 

Can the government track you when using a VPN?

Yes, it can, but it isn’t easy. Actually, authorities will not waste their time following you as a casual VPN user unless you have done something unlawful.  

Usually, they will get your connection logs from your ISP. Then, they will approach the VPN provider after detecting VPN usage. However, if the provider observes a strict no-logs policy, there won’t be any data to give away. 

But it is very rare for authorities to approach VPN providers for users as they have other methods to track down potential criminals. For example, it recently emerged that the US government compels Google to submit a list of IP addresses and accounts that have searched specific keywords online. 

So, a VPN will mask your IP address but you can still be tracked if you are using your personal Google account. So, keep in mind that your online privacy and security depend on the tools you use and your own vigilance. 

Can Google track you when using a VPN?

Yes, Google can still monitor your online activities if you browse with your Google account, even with a VPN. The company may not identify the IP address you are using but will track everything you do as if you aren’t using a VPN. 

Can you still be tracked if a VPN disconnects?

Sometimes the VPN connection can drop accidentally, making you more vulnerable to tracking. This is because your data will no longer be encrypted, and your actual IP address will be revealed. Fortunately, some VPNs have a feature known as a kill switch that will cut your connection if your VPN fails. 

Bottom line 

A VPN will help to protect your online privacy, but this doesn’t mean you cannot be tracked. There are many ways to monitor you online activities whether you are using a VPN or not. 

However, it is good to use a VPN to protect your browsing activity. Even if your ISP, websites you visit, and hackers know you are using a VPN, they can’t access your identifiable information. More importantly, choose a VPN provider with transparent privacy policies and doesn’t store any logs. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

  1. Can your employer track you when using a VPN?

Yes, especially if you use a business VPN, which functions differently from commercial VPNs. Many business VPNs do not guarantee employees’ anonymity. 

  1. How can your VPN traffic be tracked?

A reliable VPN will use advanced features to keep you safe and private online. However, there are many ways to track your VPN traffic. For example, VPN IP addresses are easily recognizable. The other way is to check the port number since VPN protocols establish a connection with specific port numbers. Lastly, deep packet inspection (DPI) can also identify your VPN traffic. 

  1. Can you be hacked when using a VPN?

The best VPN should have the necessary security measures to protect it from hacking. However, this is not the case with all VPNs. For example, free VPNs employ unreliable security that malicious actors can hack.