Android VPNs: Evaluating Security and Privacy Features

Everywhere we go, we hear that websites are spying on us. So unsurprisingly we’re looking for solutions to increase our online privacy and security. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have ridden this wave to the mainstream.  Once only for corporations and techies, VPNs are now advertised to everyone to safeguard their internet activities.

With the prevalence of cyber threats and the need to protect sensitive data on mobile devices, Android VPNs have become popular tools for enhancing security and privacy while using smartphones and tablets.

What is a VPN?

In simple terms, a VPNs lets you use the internet, as if you’re somewhere else. At its most basic, a VPN is simply another computer (a VPN server) that connects to the internet, and then passes the results back to you through a secure connection (an encrypted tunnel).

What you get from a VPN

This tunneling provides a whole host of benefits. Most famously, this allows you, as an internet user, to appear to be in a different country. This is an attractive benefit for those trying to bypass geo-based content filters on streaming services. From the perspective of the service, the connection is coming from the location of the VPN server.

It also gives an extra layer of security between your device and the VPN server. Assuming the encryption is properly encrypted, there should be no way to intercept or alter the traffic going through the tunnel. This is ideal for workplaces that allow working from home. The office systems are secured by firewalls. A VPN allows users to connect to them as if they were in the office.

Equally if you don’t trust the security of your connection - for example, the wifi network, or your ISP, a VPN is a good solution to bypass them.

What are the Risks?

While VPNs offer significant benefits, it is essential to understand their limitations and potential risks, especially when using Android VPNs.

Data Collection

Although a VPN gives a secure tunnel through connections you might not trust, the VPN server has full visibility to your traffic. They may collect and analyze your data, or even sell your data to third parties. These providers have not improved your privacy, they’ve simply moved the problem, and in some cases, made it worse. Users must be aware that their online activities and personal information could be harvested and potentially used for targeted advertising or other nefarious purposes without their consent.

Jurisdiction and Data Retention Laws

The jurisdiction in which a VPN provider operates can significantly impact your privacy. Some countries have strict data retention laws or may require companies to share user data upon request. Opt for VPN providers based in countries with favorable privacy laws.

Browser Fingerprinting

While VPNs can hide your IP address, they may not prevent browser fingerprinting. Advertisers and trackers can still identify you based on browser and device characteristics, compromising your anonymity.

Split Tunneling

Split tunneling is a VPN feature that allows users to choose which internet traffic goes through the VPN and which goes directly to the internet. It provides flexibility and efficiency, enabling users to access local resources while still using the VPN for sensitive data.

However, this feature is a common source of errors, where sensitive data is accidentally transmitted without the VPN, and therefore susceptible to interception by malicious actors or monitoring by internet service providers (ISPs).

Be cautious considering the potential risks before utilizing split tunneling to strike the right balance between convenience and security.

Limited Anonymity

While VPNs mask your IP address and encrypt your data, they do not provide complete anonymity. Other factors, such as your online behavior and browser fingerprint, can still be used to track and identify you. This especially true if those tracking you have significant resources - such as law enforcement or a national regime.

ISP or National Restrictions

Although the content of the communication between you and your VPN is encrypted, the fact that you’re using a VPN is not. In some regions, ISPs or government authorities may actively block VPN usage as a means of controlling internet access and surveillance. They may also use it to flag a user as potentially suspicious. This restriction can compromise users' ability to secure their online activities and hinder their access to privacy tools. Before relying on a VPN in such areas, users should research local regulations and consider alternative security measures to protect their data and maintain online privacy.


Android VPNs are powerful tools for enhancing security and privacy while using mobile devices. But if you don’t exercise caution choosing and configuring it, you’re likely doing more harm than good. Choose a provider that you trust and a setup that you trust - even though this may sometimes be more expensive.

Remember that a VPN does not guarantee full privacy. It can hide where you are located, and it will do well to protect your data on the first hop of its journey. But in any case, you must still follow all normal best practices with your data.