Anna Eshoo, Ron Wyden Call on FTC to Crack Down on VPNs

An exterior view of the Federal Trade Commission building
(Image credit: Future)

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have called on Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan to take enforcement actions against abusive practices by virtual private networks (VPNs).

VPNs are billed as secure (encrypted) private networks that use the public internet.

The legislators tied that call for action to concerns, in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, about protecting the personal information of women seeking abortions. They said they were particularly concerned about "deceptive advertising and data collection practices."

The FTC has authority over deceptive ads and practices via its Sec. 5 authority.

Eshoo and Wyden said that among the VPNs’ abusive practices are promoting false claims about their service, selling data or providing user activity logs to law enforcement despite promises of “total anonymity.”

“As the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has amplified concerns about digital reproductive privacy, people seeking abortion are increasingly told that installing a VPN is an important step for protecting themselves when seeking information on abortion in states that have outlawed and criminalized abortion,“ the lawmakers said. But they said there are no practical tools or independent research to identify VPNs that are secure.

In addition to taking enforcement actions against bad actors, they want the FTC to develop a handbook for “abortion-seekers” on protecting their data, including the benefits and risks of VPNs. ■

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.