What is a VPN? How does Covenant Eyes use them on mobile?

If you use Covenant Eyes on iPhone®, iPad®, or Android™ phones and tablets, you may have noticed a little “VPN” symbol. A VPN, which stands for a Virtual Private Network, is traditionally a third party that connects to the Internet on your behalf. Instead of connecting directly to the Internet, the VPN adds, encrypts, or interprets data before connecting to the internet or sending information back to your device.

For example, some businesses require remote workers to connect to a Corporate network using a VPN. In this case, the VPN adds an extra layer of security to the employee’s browsing data, and adds extra information that says “this user is allowed to access this network and tool.” If the employee tries to access a tool without being connected to the VPN, they would not be able to because they are missing that extra information.

Our Android and iOS solutions are not traditional VPNs, but they do mimic some of the functions of a traditional VPN to gather information about the websites visited across all apps. We have created a patented “Tunneled Monitoring Service” to gather information about your web use (particularly visited, top-level domains). This is similar to the behavior of a traditional VPN. However, we don’t send your actual web use through one of our own servers like a traditional VPN would. In other words, you’re not sending your bank account information or other private data to our servers; we’re only tracking the fact that you opened your bank’s website (which would show in your Detailed Browsing Log). Also, our service does not add a layer of encryption to your internet usage like a traditional VPN would.

The trouble is that we invented this tunneling process. It’s so new that devices don’t have infrastructure (other than VPN settings) to support it. So, as far as your device is concerned, we use a VPN configuration. But our solution is not a VPN.

For those who are required to use a traditional VPN on your mobile device, this will present a compatibility issue with Covenant Eyes’ service. Unfortunately, neither Apple nor Android devices will allow more than one VPN to run on the device at the same time.

In addition, some Android devices may show a persistent notification about the VPN (we’ve put some screenshots at the end of this article). This is set by the Android device itself and is a security notification to normal VPN users to tell them they are still connected. Since we appear as a VPN (even though we aren’t one), this persistent banner appears on some devices.

If you would like additional information about the features we offer for iPhone, iPad, or Android, please visit our blog and additional support articles.

Related blog post: Better iPhone Accountability? There’s an App for That

Related support article: How has the Android™ app changed?

Screenshots of the VPN

On Android, the VPN may appear as a key icon. On Android, you may see a banner on your lock screen. On Android, you may see a persistent message in your notifications.

On iOS, the VPN appears as the letters "VPN."