"I just hated it and I want my money back": Data-driven Understanding of Mobile VPN Service Switching Preferences in The Wild


Rohit Raj, Mridul Newar, and Mainack Mondal, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur


Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are a crucial PrivacyEnhancing Technology (PET) leveraged by millions of users and catered by multiple VPN providers worldwide; thus, understanding the user preferences for the choice of VPN apps should be of importance and interest to the security community. To that end, prior studies looked into the usage, awareness and adoption of VPN users and the perceptions of providers. However, no study so far has looked into the user preferences and underlying reasons for switching among VPN providers and identified features that presumably enhance users' VPN experience. This work aims to bridge this gap and shed light on the underlying factors that drive existing users when they switch from one VPN to another. In this work, we analyzed over 1.3 million reviews from 20 leading VPN apps, identifying 1,305 explicit mentions and intents to switch. Our NLP-based analysis unveiled distinct clusters of factors motivating users to switch. An examination of 376 blogs from six popular VPN recommendation sites revealed biases in the content, and we found ignorance towards user preferences. We conclude by identifying the key implications of our work for different stakeholders. The data and code for this work is available at https://github.com/Mainack/switchvpn-datacode-sec24.

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