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CitizenVPN Tobias Skytte Reveals the Truth About Free VPN, Lifetime Deals and Data Retention

CitizenVPN was founded by Tobias Skytte in 2 locations: Denmark, his home country where data privacy is taken very seriously, and Nassau, where he can comfortably avoid the EU logging directive. Tobias strongly believes in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we certainly share the sentiment. In this exclusive interview he shares his views on free VPN, lifetime plans and data retention. In 5 words: It's worse than you think!

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before starting a vpn service. How did you get started as a VPN service?

In 2009 I was working as System Administrator for a major streaming music provider and had previously founded and operated a small ISP. I noticed that the VPN market was primarily marketed towards technical nerds and saturated with less than reputable companies having little to no transparency. Many VPN providers don't disclose who are running them or even from what country. I felt there was a need for a transparent and trustworthy VPN provider marketing towards the average consumer, so in 2010 I quit my job and started the company.

With Opera offering free VPN, and with free VPNs like Windscribe and Hola, do you see a future for paid VPNs?

The Opera 'VPN' is more like a proxy, it only works in the Opera browser. While somewhat useful, it does not work with all the other programs that may be using the internet, so it won't work with Skype or games or anything else. It's not nearly as secure for the user compared to a real VPN, as it can be exploited in other ways to reveal the users real IP address.

In the future it will be normal to have a paid VPN account, just like a paid internet account and paid TV, Music streaming etc. A paid VPN can offer more connection methods (e.g. OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, IpSec etc.) and much better security and privacy from authorities. Usually they will also offer much higher bandwidth than a free VPN. At CitizenVPN we really have no limits at all on bandwidth. We regularly see users download in bursts of 50+ Mbps (although servers can go much higher). I don't think you can do that with a free VPN.

Windscribe is hardly free, as their free option is quite limited and their unlimited option is similarly priced as ours.
With Hola you have to be careful as a user because they don't actually have any servers. Instead, all your data flows to another one of their users and exits from there. So while you are connected to Hola, a number of other users will be exiting from your computer, meaning that your computer will function as a VPN server. If, for example, someone downloads a movie illegally using Hola, then YOUR IP address will be tracked for downloading that movie and guess where rights- holders will come knocking? Personally I would never use Hola.

Some VPNs offer lifetime deal. What do you think of this strategy?

Well I am rather skeptical. The only way that would make any business-sense is, frankly, if you plan to sell a large amount of accounts quickly and then somehow not deliver a useful service at a later stage. For example, if the bandwidth is throttled, then while it may be useful today, in 10-15 years-time that same bandwidth will feel as if you used a 64K modem today.. so in my opinion it would be pretty useless.

What makes CitizenVPN different from other VPNs?

Since all your data goes through the VPN providers servers, I have always felt that you should choose your VPN provider as you choose your accountant or lawyer. So at CitizenVPN we try to build trust by fully disclosing who are behind it, company addresses, contact info and so on.

To build further trust, we sell and market from our Danish company while delivering the actual service from our Bahamas company (with VPN servers in multiple countries). Selling from Denmark adds trust, as there are very strong consumer protections and warranties; delivering from the Bahamas enables us to not worry about the EU data-retention laws, and they have a strong reputation for protecting privacy.

We put the customer's needs first, and aim to provide the easiest, smoothest and most secure VPN solution possible.
We feel a VPN service should be sold like any other online service. ISP's, Music streaming, TV subscriptions etc. all have phone support, so why should VPN be any different? In the future we hope to be able to provide 24/7 phone support.

Our Android app is another good example: It only requires a one-touch connect and zero configuration, yet still using the very secure OpenVPN protocol, although it does need a fresh skin, but we're working on that.

We are not the cheapest provider out there, if you want super-discount VPN we are not the right choice. Instead, we deliver a premium top-quality service that really anyone can afford, starting from 0.29 €/day. We also offer the same top-quality service in a PayAsYouGo model so you can buy, for instance, 10GB of transfer, and spread that over a whole year if you like, which makes it extremely affordable.

Can you explain “Data retention”? What is your policy?

'Data retention' usually refers to authorities policies of forcing ISPs and VPN providers to store data regarding the users usage of the given service, so authorities can later access it. This includes storing connecting IP addresses of the user, as well as possibly what sites the user visits, emails sent, skype calls made etc., and allowing authorities to trace down every action that user has taken online.

Our policy is to never store the users connecting IP address nor any other data regarding their usage. We do not comply with ANY 'data retention directives'.

We only store the users IP on the webserver for 30 days, but this can only ever be used to prove that an IP address loaded the CitizenVPN and/or bought the service. It can't show any usage data. We of course log whenever an account is accessed (I.e. connect and disconnect and bytes transferred), this is for accounting purposes, but as the IP is not stored it is not a very useful data for any authority.

What measures are being taken in your company to prevent outsiders as well as employees from looking at your uses data?

No outsiders have ever or will ever get access to our servers or data. If it ever becomes necessary to give a remote consultant temporary access to fix something, then the policy is to only do it while a sys-admin is watching every move on screen as it is made.

We do everything in-house and everything is developed 100% here in Denmark (incl. our Android app), we don't outsource any development or maintenance at all and don't plan to.

Employees data-access (like database lookups etc.) is always logged, so any request for data can be back-traced.

Does Skytte Media ApS have any other projects of interest going on right now?

We are working on a very exciting plug&play VPN router for the common consumer. It will be incredibly easy to use but still appeal to technical people, with enterprise-level features and open source. We will be launching a Kickstarter campaign in April/May 2017. I can't say much more as we will be filing for patents but it is called 'LIBRTY' (TM). You heard it here first.

Are there plans to add more countries/servers to your VPN offering?

Yes! We're actually planning to add server in 15-20 countries in the next 4-6 months, and as always, all user accounts can will be able access them from any country.

Is the likeness between Citizen Kane and your logo a coincidence?

I didn't actually think a lot about Citizen Kane. The idea was to make an association to Abraham Lincoln who famously wore a top-hat. I think Lincoln is generally associated with civil rights, so this fits well with the privacy protection provided by CitizenVPN. It's also a magician's hat, because we magically make your internet better and more secure.

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About the Author

Ditsa Keren is a cybersecurity expert with a keen interest in technology and digital privacy.

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