What Is No-Log VPN and Why Do You Need One?
No-log virtual private networks allow their users to surf the web anonymously. Such VPNs don’t record any activity that could lead to identifying their clients.
Jan 19,2023 January 19,2023
Many VPN providers claim they help clients preserve online privacy. One of the most important ways a VPN provider can support this objective is by not logging user data or activity. That is called a no-log VPN service, which is an important distinction when choosing a provider.
But, do those companies really refrain from recording the users' activity, and if not, what type of information do they log? Continue reading to learn about no-log VPN services, what kind of information they may keep track of, and when such a practice could be acceptable.
In a nutshell, logs or log files are records of activity that goes on between two servers. Provided that you are not currently using a VPN that doesn’t keep logs, your ISP and DataProt's server are recording your activity right now.
These records (logs) show when you're online, what content you're accessing, and from which IP address. Anyone who obtains access to these records can use them to track your geolocation, understand your habits and interests, and even discover your identity.
So, usage logs are helpful to marketers and anyone who wants to collect and analyze data for advertisement purposes. Moreover, the copyright authorities can use them to track down people who pirate content and download copyrighted material from the web illegally.
That's why a no-log VPN service is essential for anyone who wants to stay private online.
What Is a No-Log VPN?
In a nutshell, VPNs that don’t log online activity provide private internet access to their clients. As such, using this service allows you to browse the web, download files, and use applications without anyone knowing what you’re up to, at least in theory.
That is the main idea behind a no-log VPN service – no one, not even your internet service provider or the VPN company, should be able to see what you’re doing online.
Now let’s define logs to clarify the no-log VPN concept further.
Is Accessing the Internet Anonymously Really Possible?
Anyone subscribing to no-logs VPN services and activating the VPN hopes to browse the internet anonymously. Even so, an activity log is created, the only difference being that the VPN providers’ IP addresses replace those of users in the records that are left behind.
Also, all the data goes through the VPN’s encrypted tunnel, which renders it unreadable to anyone trying to collect and analyze it. They can only see that you connected to the VPN server, nothing more.
Although many people using VPNs that don’t keep logs believe their privacy is protected, it’s not always the case. For example, if you log in to your Google account, there’s no way Google won’t know who you are, whether you’re using a no-log VPN or not.
Logging into the account exposes your identity and allows the platform’s operators to see what you’re doing. So, in addition to using a no-log VPN service with a strict no-logs policy while browsing the web, ensure you’re not logged in to any of your accounts to avoid being tracked.
Potential No-Log VPN Issues
When you land on a website, a log is automatically created somewhere. However, if you use a VPN, it won’t contain your IP address but the VPN server’s. So, if marketers or copyright authorities want to know who visited a particular website at what time, they must go through the VPN provider to acquire that information.
The problem is that most countries’ law enforcement - including that of the United States - can force VPN providers to hand over user logs if they proffer a court order. That’s why it’s advisable to use no-log VPN services based in countries beyond the US authorities’ jurisdiction, such as Panama, the British Virgin Islands, or the Cayman Islands.
If those looking for information can’t get it through VPN providers, they could contact the website you accessed. Nevertheless, the visitor remains anonymous since the website can only see the VPN’s address.
Even though many VPNs promise they don’t keep logs, or at least those that can identify their clients, many make their no-logs policies intentionally vague, if not downright misleading. For instance, they may differentiate between various types of logs, which brings us to the next point.
Types of Logs
While a VPN that does not log web activity will refrain from recording any activity their users engage in or other sensitive information, other VPN providers might record specific types of information related to DNS requests, metadata, bandwidth usage, and connection timestamps.
Depending on the type of data, the information may fall into one of the following log categories:
VPN Connection Log
Providers can collect customer connection logs from the VPN server and user levels. The former is about optimizing network performance and doesn’t contain any sensitive information. On the other hand, the latter is problematic and might include data such as the user’s actual IP address and date and time of connection.
You’ve often seen the message that the purpose of data collection is to “deliver the best possible experience” or “improve customer service.” But we know from experience that collecting data at a user level isn’t necessary to maintain a well-performing VPN network.
Some standard connection logs are:
- Bandwidth usage
- Originating IP address
- VPN server’s IP address
- Dates and times of connection
VPN Activity Log
Activity or usage logs are the most invasive data-collection logs. They can reveal the user's browser, visited websites, access times, and time spent on each.
Data collected through activity logs is usually sold to advertising platforms and used to deliver targeted ads. Free VPNs are among the typical culprits that collect this type of information as they need to fund their operations somehow.
Some standard types of usage logs are:
- URLs visited
- DNS requests
- Usage metadata
- Browsing history
VPN Aggregator Log
Popular VPNs tend to collect aggregated logs. That means the VPN is taking information which, in theory, cannot be linked to a specific user.
This data collection might include the websites you visit, how much bandwidth you use, or when you connect to specific servers. The good news is that no-log VPN providers remove the identifying information before adding it to their databases.
Also, take into consideration that some VPNs claiming not to keep logs might actually be keeping aggregated logs.
VPNs and Logs Retention
So, do no-log virtual private networks retain users’ personal and other information or not?
A genuine no-log VPN won't log any data that could lead to the identification of a user. That includes the user’s IP address, browsing history, and traffic metadata. This information should remain hidden from marketers, other prying eyes, and the VPN service itself.
Still, the VPN service provider may have legitimate reasons to keep logs, depending on the situation. More often than not, the only data a trustworthy no-log VPN will retain is derived from the information you used to register for the service and the billing details in case you ask for a refund.
Either way, there may be some good reasons for VPNs to log information, so let’s see what these are.
Acceptable VPN Logs
Protecting their users’ personal and other information is of paramount importance for any reputable VPN service, whether clients use VPN to bypass geolimitations for streaming on Firestick or some other streaming service, enhance security while working, or some other reason. Still, instances when logging is acceptable are:
- Server load info
- Bandwidth usage
- Location of a VPN server
- Aggregated connection logs
- Subnet of originating IP address, only revealing your internet service provider
Unacceptable VPN Logs
On the other hand, no genuine no-logs VPN will collect the following data, regardless of the circumstances:
- DNS requests
- Websites visited
- Specific IP addresses of users
- The IP address of the assigned VPN server
How To Be Sure That VPN Providers Don’t Keep Logs
In truth, you can't be 100% sure that the no-logs VPN is keeping zero logs for at least two reasons.
One is that the internet is all about recording each connection at the very least, and there’s no way around that. Still, a real zero-log VPN removes all the user data before it hits the database, but advertising such a practice isn’t smart for VPN companies because it would reveal they log users’ activity after all.
The other reason is that users would have to be administrators to confirm that logging doesn’t happen on the servers. Even if granted such a privilege, the virtual private network provider could remove logs about the VPN traffic for the duration of the administrator’s check.
The best you can do is carefully research a provider before buying a VPN package and check user reviews to see if anyone has had issues with log retention. If the company’s no-logs claims have been confirmed by an independent audit, that’s another plus.
Protecting Information From VPN Log Storing Activity
If you don't mind going the extra mile to ensure your privacy, you can take the following steps to prevent VPN servers from storing and subsequently exposing your data:
- Research and verify no-log VPNs: Check if some legal cases confirmed the provider didn’t keep logs in the past.
- Use VPN with Tor browser: To make it work, download the suitable VPN version, launch the VPN client, open the app, connect to the server, and launch Tor.
- Use multiple VPN services: If you don’t have performance issues with your device, resorting to this option should bring you a step closer to keeping your sensitive info from recording the VPN logging policies might impose.
- Choose a VPN incorporated in a country without strict data retention laws.
Top Three No-Log VPN Companies
If you’re looking for a proven no-log VPN service provider, you can't go wrong with any of the below providers.
ExpressVPN currently has high-speed servers in 94 countries and offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. The provider is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, and customer support is available 24/7.
Last but not least, setting it up is a breeze, and connection timestamps, bandwidth usage, and server location are the only logs the provider gathers, making ExpressVPN one of the best no-log VPNs on the market.
NordVPN is among the most trusted no-log VPNs around. Headquartered in Panama City, it boasts thousands of servers across 59 countries. Like ExpressVPN, it has a 30-day money-back guarantee. According to our research, NordVPN records nothing save aggregated bandwidth usage, which makes it one of the finest no-logs VPN providers overall.
Plus, this VPN is among the finest VPN providers for iOS, trusted by millions of iPhone users worldwide.
From its headquarters in Switzerland, Perfect Privacy oversees more than 55 servers in 26 countries. Like NordVPN, this company logs only aggregated bandwidth use. So, your IP address, server location, browsing history, and everything else won’t be revealed to third parties.
Now that we have answered the "What is a no-log VPN?" question and pointed out what types of logs are acceptable, it's up to you to choose a VPN provider that adheres to a no-logs policy. Furthermore, consider taking additional steps to protect your privacy.
When choosing a reputable no-logs VPN provider, we suggest you prioritize the companies that have proven their reliability. Also, check user reviews to see if anyone had issues with the provider before.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that no-logs VPNs should be used properly to prevent any data from leaking. So, ensure you don't log into your Google and other accounts while the VPN is turned on to remain secure.
Most VPNs keep some kind of logs, but a reputable VPN won't keep logs that could disclose what their clients did online. So, genuine no-log VPN providers will never record the user's IP address, browsing history, and server location, among other things.
Yes, NordVPN is a no-logs VPN provider. This means the provider won't store any logs that could expose their clients’ online activities. NordVPN will only log the user's aggregated bandwidth usage for the purpose of performance improvements.
ExpressVPN is a no-log VPN that keeps its clients' identities and online activity private. This provider will only log the user's aggregated bandwidth usage, connection timestamps, and server locations.
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