Monitoring Your Online Activity: What Can VPN Providers See?

What Can VPN Providers See

The Virtual Private Network (VPN) market has exploded over the past decade. As the average internet user discovers more about online security and data protection, VPNs have increasingly become a default privacy solution, with 42% of people using a VPN for regular browsing in the USA.

Based on recent predictions, experts predict that the VPN market will reach a total market value of 350 billion by 2032, representing a percentage increase of over 670% from 2022 figures. Yet, as VPN usage becomes increasingly common, users are becoming increasingly curious about what VPN providers can see when they browse online due to potential online privacy concerns. As the average browser becomes more knowledgeable about data security, these worries are only natural.

In this article, we touch on how VPNs offer protection to users and explore exactly what information they save.

Quick Takeaways

  • Encryption: VPNs provide an encrypted tunnel that prevents ISPs from monitoring your internet activity.
  • Connection: To establish a connection with a VPN, you must provide your personal information, such as your original IP address.
  • Information: VPN providers see your IP address, internet connection metadata, user activity, DNS queries, connection logs, and bandwidth usage.
  • Storage: Some VPN providers store this data, while others have a no-log policy. A no-log policy provides a greater level of user privacy, as the provider will not store personal information.

How Does VPN Work?

Before we get into the data VPN providers have visibility into, let’s first define what a VPN is. 

A VPN allows users to hide their sensitive data when browsing online, offering an additional layer of privacy. VPNs achieve this by creating an encrypted tunnel between the user’s device and the pages they access. This method ensures that VPN traffic (your data) moves through the VPN, rather than going through the internet service provider (ISP).

What Can VPN Providers See?

When you connect to a VPN server through its encrypted tunnel, it assigns you a temporary IP address. With full data encryption, this masked IP address, and website requests coming through the VPN instead of from your own device, you can remain incognito while browsing.

However, by connecting with your VPN provider, you essentially browse the internet through their servers. With that in mind, here’s what VPN providers can see when you browse with them.

User’s IP address

When you connect with a VPN provider, you share your device details with their servers. The information they can access includes your original IP address and physical location. 

While your internet service provider won’t be able to see your real IP address, the VPN service you have partnered with will access your original address. 

Connection metadata

When connecting and disconnecting to a remote access VPN service, the provider will log details about your connection. The exact connection metadata that a provider will record varies. However, they’ll likely record the following as a bare minimum:

  • Duration of your VPN session.
  • The total amount of data transmitted in the session.
  • Start and end time of the session.
  • Device details.
  • VPN connection server details.

A VPN/internet provider may use this information to monitor usage for internal optimization, trace potential nefarious behavior, or troubleshoot errors in their service. 

User activity within the VPN tunnel

Although a VPN’s encryption makes it impossible for your internet service provider to monitor your activity, that doesn’t mean no one will be able to see what you’ve been searching for. VPNs record two core aspects of online traffic: data transferred and the endpoints (websites) you received data from.

By seeing which endpoints you connected with and how much data you exchanged, VPN providers could build up a comprehensive understanding of what you’ve been doing on those sites. 

DNS queries

When you attempt to access a website, your device will send a DNS request to the DNS server. This connection facilitates an exchange of information, with the DNS server retrieving the IP address of a website and sending it to your device. 

When browsing with a business VPN, providers may be able to see your DNS queries. Equally, if the VPN provider doesn’t offer protection against DNS leaks, your ISP may also gain insight into the DNS requests you’ve made. It’s important to partner with VPNs that offer DNS leak protection to minimize the possibility of ISPs tracking your site history.

Connection logs

Many VPN providers store connection logs about each of their users. Much like connection metadata, these logs can store a comprehensive amount of information. To protect yourself as much as possible, it’s important to find VPN providers that have a no-log policy. 

No-log policies ensure that VPN providers do not store your information after you close a session. This is vital as these records could become a prime target of hackers. 

In 2023, SuperVPN, a free VPN platform, experienced a data leak that breached over 360 million user records. This is far from the only VPN breach, with another occurring just a few months later. 

When partnering with a platform that doesn’t offer a no-log policy, your data could fall into the wrong hands if the platform suffers a similar breach. Although VPN data breaches are uncommon, no platform is invulnerable to cyberattacks. 

Bandwidth usage

As all data moves through the encrypted VPN tunnel, your provider can monitor the total bandwidth usage in any given session. Some VPN providers use this monitoring to create data caps with a tiered payment model. 

The total amount of bandwidth you use in a session also signals what activity you are conducting online. For example, streaming on a video platform would require more data usage in an hour than reading an online newspaper. With that in mind, VPN providers could make educated guesses about your online activities. 

The Dangers of Using Unreliable VPNs

Although VPNs hide a great deal of data from ISPs, they do so while having direct access to this data themselves. While a good VPN platform takes measures to decrease the potential security overhead that a user may experience, not all platforms follow these steps. 

In the best-case scenario, an unreliable VPN may use low-quality encryption, allowing ISPs to monitor some of your activity. Yet, the worst-case scenario could include major security risks, including the potential to be involved in a data breach.

When selecting a VPN provider, always endeavor to entrust your connection to a reputable, established, and security-focused platform. Your data, privacy, and connection will all thank you. 

Create a Bulletproof Security Strategy with Perimeter81

The most important step when keeping your data safe online is making sure you partner with the right VPN provider. A great VPN provider will take into account every major security consideration and do everything in its power to offer a high degree of user privacy (so make sure to always check the privacy policies).

Perimeter81 offers a world-class remote access VPN with unlimited bandwidth for users and businesses alike. As a leader in the VPN space, Perimeter81 offers 24/7 customer support, 35 VPN connection locations worldwide, and rapid integration. 

Reach out to the Perimeter81 team or get started today to put your online security first. 


Can a VPN provider see what you do?
Yes, VPN providers can see what you do online. However, many leading providers use no-log policies, meaning they won’t record and save your information. 
Can a VPN provider see my passwords?
A VPN provider cannot see your passwords as your data is encrypted. The encrypted tunnel will ensure that no one can trace the data you input into a site, not even the VPN provider. 
Can VPN be tracked by the government?
VPN providers allocate a user a masked IP address when browsing. Combined with encryption, this step prevents tracking. However, a government could request your information from a VPN provider if they save it and have reasonable grounds to do so. 
Does VPN hide history from the wifi owner?
Owners of a wifi network will not be able to monitor your history if you use a VPN.
What does a VPN hide?
A VPN hides your IP address, location, and browsing history from your internet service provider. 

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