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Google VPN: Why one company thinks big tech’s entry into the privacy space is 'a terrible idea’

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Well-regarded VPN provider ProtonVPN has come out all guns blazing against Google's new VPN service, which the firm's CEO Andy Yen has described as “a terrible idea”.

In a candid email exchange, he said that, despite assurances from Google that it will open source the technology and do its due diligence, ProtonVPN remains skeptical.

“Open sourcing everything and doing audits is certainly a necessary step (and that is why ProtonVPN is also open source and audited), but it doesn't change the fact that a Google VPN represents a significant conflict of interest," Yen told TechRadar Pro.

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"Fundamentally, VPNs are privacy tools, and Google's entire business model revolves around surveillance. Bundling their VPN with other services also indicates that Google is planning to leverage their dominant market position to again control over the VPN market, which are tactics currently under investigation in both the US and EU.”

ProtonVPN’s CEO also dismisses the notion that Google joining the consumer VPN business will raise the profile of the industry in a positive way. 

“According to the data that Google themselves cite, around 25% of internet users are already using VPN, and most of the remaining 75% are likely aware of VPN. The sector is already high profile, there's not much doubt around that, which is why Google is entering the space," he said.

"The more relevant question is whether or not Google will be a fair competitor, given its platform advantages and its ability to extract a 30% tax on all other competing VPNs on Android. Present US and EU investigations into Google's anticompetitive behaviors indicate that Google likely will not be a fair competitor.”

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(Image credit: OpturaDesign / Shutterstock.com)

Google has enormous power and can compete is near enough any market it pleases, particularly if it leverages existing platform dominance in an anticompetitive fashion.

Yen is also convinced that others in the big tech space will follow suit. “Of the GAFA companies, it seems most likely that Apple and perhaps Amazon would follow Google into the space (Facebook has already made a past attempt)," he explained.

"Amazon and Apple today have different business models from Google, but both are increasingly venturing into advertising, so concerns about conflicts of interest also exist. The concern regarding US jurisdiction and government access to user data also exists for all the GAFA companies. Finally, the anticompetitive concerns are also equally valid, as all four GAFA companies are currently the subject of ongoing antitrust investigations.”

Harold Li, VP at ExpressVPN, has also chimed into the debate, adding a measure of nuance.

“Now that consumers are more switched on about privacy than ever before, it seems big tech companies are eager to prove their privacy bona fides and show that they’ve learned from their missteps. Apple has been running “Privacy. That’s iPhone” ad campaigns, and now Google is including a VPN in its offering."

"It’s a great sign that VPNs have become a flagship privacy and security tool, but it’s not surprising that there are questions about whether Google can credibly compete in this space given their core business of data monetization. “

Big tech hasn't had the best track record when it comes to privacy - nor privacy-centric products. Remember what happened when Facebook launched a VPN; it was caught with its hand in the cookie jar, using Onavo VPN user data for market research, and was forced to shut the project down.

We’ll have to wait and see whether Google fares any better.