A reader has a question about free Virtual Private Networks:

“I have read several articles stating “free” VPNs do a lot of logging of a user’s traffic and sell the information to advertisers. That’s how they can offer “free” VPN. Any truth to that?”

One general rule of thumb when using technology is that if you don’t pay for a service, you are the product. Search engines, “free” email like Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, and AOL, social media platforms, chat rooms, bulletin boards, all free phone apps… You’re the product. Your activity, keywords you mention, what you browse, what you like, what videos you watch… all of that ends up in advertiser databases.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re actually reading emails or monitoring your every mouse click but odds are if you’re a free service, your data is being collected in some way. Much like those customer loyalty cards that help you earn points at the supermarket. Data about your every purchase is sent back to companies to decide how best to target you with ads.

As for VPNs, the best way to know if your data is a product is to check terms of service and see what type of permission you’re granting when you sign up. Check the permissions for paid VPN services as well. Many paid services also deal in your info.