TunnelBear is one of Canada’s leading VPN providers. In fact, it’s one of the biggest VPNs period. Recently purchased by online security giants McAfee, the company offers a reliable, accessible VPN service on all major platforms and has a good reputation for bypassing geo-blocking measures.
But we’re not too worried about watching Netflix here. Instead, this article is all about the TunnelBear torrenting credentials. Even popular VPNs with excellent security sometimes fall down when it comes to torrenting. And as torrenting is a major reason for actually purchasing a VPN subscription, it helps to know which providers are P2P friendly. So let’s dig deeper and discover more about the TunnelBear torrenting experience.
The basics: Is TunnelBear torrenting in Canada even an option?
One of the first things to note about TunnelBear is its location. Canada has been fairly notorious for being hostile to peer to peer downloading in the past. In 2015, the government passed a new raft of laws specifically targeting illegal downloads.
After that, ISPs were required by law to send letters to users caught downloading copyrighted material. But the courts weren’t given new powers to send torrenters to jail, and copyright holders weren’t actually given new ways to sue offenders.
However, there was another nasty surprise among the laws of 2015. They also demanded that VPNs and ISPs keep logs, which would “allow the identity of the person to whom the electronic location belongs to be determined”. This led to some VPNs pulling out of Canada for a safer location, and the ones that remain (like TunnelBear) are under pressure to adhere to the new laws.
What is the TunnelBear torrenting policy like?
Given that legal context, you might assume that TunnelBear would totally ban P2P downloads on its servers.
When you visit the TunnelBear website, you won’t find any mention of torrents or peer to peer downloading anywhere.
It’s clear that this isn’t a VPN that wants to promote torrent downloads, and that it isn’t optimized for this purpose.
The absence of torrenting on the VPN’s website isn’t an accident. When the internet laws discussed earlier were passed, TunnelBear decided to block user access to P2P downloads. That is, instead of logging torrents and going against their core values, TunnelBear decided to block quasi-legal activities and focus on providing a fast, lightweight VPN for other online purposes.
But they may have left the door open to allowing P2P downloads in the future. Until 2017, the TunnelBear website carried an article which clearly cited complaints from content providers and explained the VPN’s stance on user privacy. However, that article has been taken down, and you’ll struggle to find an explanation of TunnelBear’s position on torrents.
This may mean that the VPN is seeking to attract users who want to torrent but are unaware of TunnelBear’s blocking practices. Or it may mean that the VPN is reconsidering its strategy. We’ll have to wait and see where events lead. But for now, TunnelBear torrenting isn’t an option – at least officially.
Have people been able to successfully download torrents with TunnelBear?
While TunnelBear seems to be hostile towards torrenting and certainly doesn’t go out of its way to accommodate P2P downloading, there is evidence that torrenters can share files all the same. So the VPN’s Bittorrent barrier could be more of a “soft block”, instead of an outright ban.
How safe is TunnelBear for torrenting?
Let’s assume TunnelBear decides to allow torrenting in the future. Is there any evidence that the VPN is able to store data about what you download and provide this to law enforcement if requested?
- IP addresses visiting their website
- IP addresses upon service connection
- DNS Queries while connected
- Any information about the applications, services or websites our users use while connected to their Service
This is reassuring. It suggests that TunnelBear doesn’t collect the kind of in-depth personal data that could be used to trace specific torrent downloads.
The company is clear about providing “personal data” upon receipt of a subpoena or valid warrant. But what does this personal data contain, and can it link you to torrenting activity?
Basically, TunnelBear’s definition of personal data is quite broad, and can certainly help law enforcement personnel or legal researchers build a profile of an individual’s online activities. It includes information like:
- Email addresses
- Twitter IDs (if supplied)
- Details about the length of TunnelBear packages
- Payment details, including the name on credit cards used to purchase subscriptions, the date of any payments, and the last four numbers on the card
- Operating system
- Total data usage per month
- Interactions with customer support (so think twice about asking about torrenting)
That information can easily identify you as a TunnelBear user. But can it unmask your torrenting activities? Probably not. As the VPN stresses “we cannot disclose information about the applications, services, or websites our users consume while connected to our Services” because they simply don’t have it.
Should we take TunnelBear at their word?
However, wait a minute. Didn’t we talk earlier about how the 2015 law required VPNs to keep logs of user activity? If TunnelBear really doesn’t hold information about what users do while connected to their VPN, how could they comply with these regulations?
At the time they were passed, tech commentators debated whether VPNs would actually fall under the definition of a “means of telecommunications.” It could be that companies like TunnelBear have decided that they can safely host torrenters (at least unofficially) and that they aren’t open to prosecution.
Alternatively, TunnelBear may not be entirely honest about the information they possess on what users download.
The truth is, this is a question where we just don’t have a whole lot of information to rely on. The legal situation in Canada regarding VPNs and P2P downloading is such a mess that two things could be true:
- VPNs could have decided to ignore the anti-torrenting regulations, while not overtly marketing their services as torrent-friendly
- VPNs could be logging users when they access torrent clients in an effort to comply with the laws and excluding this logging from their privacy policies
Conclusion: a VPN that torrenters should avoid
In summary, TunnelBear has a number of drawbacks for torrenters which make it a no-go for P2P downloading. With VPNs around that cater more effectively to torrenters’ needs, it seems wiser to look for a different privacy tool.