Hotspot Shield’s parent company AnchorFree released a six-page transparency report on January 1, outlining the number of user data requests the company received from various third parties throughout 2018.
The report divides requests into five different types – search warrant, court order, subpoena, other (government) and non-government. It also shows requests by country and breaks them down on a month-by-month basis.
The US submitted the most requests for user data by an incredibly large margin, with a total of 50 in 2018. This is compared to one apiece for France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, and Turkey.
This was actually a decrease in comparison to 2017, which saw 71 requests from the US and many more from other countries. That report did not include requests from non-government entities, though.
In terms of the types of requests submitted, the most common came in the form of subpoenas, which accounted for 35 of the total 56. AnchorFree states that it usually receives grand jury subpoenas, although there are other types. These may seek a user’s name, address, phone number, type of service used and the method of payment for any such service.
In 2018, Hotspot Shield also received 15 requests which it categorized as ‘other’. It defines these as processes that are not recognized under US law, and, more often than not, these come from government officials wanting to know information on a particular user.
It also received three search warrants, two court orders and one request from a non-government entity (such as parties engaged in civil litigation against one another). Search warrants allow the government to attempt to access the contents of communications, e.g. everything you do online while connected to Hotspot Shield, which is made impossible due to a lack of activity logs.
Despite receiving all of these requests from a variety of sources, AnchorFree clearly states in this transparency report that absolutely no user data was handed over in any case. Hotspot Shield’s minimal logging policy means that it wouldn’t be able to disclose any information even if it wanted to, as there’s no way internet usage can be traced back to individual users of the VPN service.
Bearing this in mind, AnchorFree does take the opportunity to remind users that this in no way means it condones using a VPN for criminal purposes. It has now committed to releasing a new report every year, striving to be a “good corporate world citizen, while ensuring the privacy, security and freedom of [its] users”.