TL;DR; Most of the time you don’t want to use a Free VPN Service. Checkout our List of Best VPN Services 2019 to find a solution for your use case.
More people than ever before are cognizant of the risks of browsing the web without protection. A reliable VPN can be a huge asset. For the time being, the old adage remains true, “You get what you pay for.” Many VPN services require money. However, a lot of people look into getting a free VPN to save money. Unfortunately, nothing is ever truly free.
It costs a lot of money to run a VPN. Running a network of servers always comes with monthly expenses. There is also app development and technical support to bear in mind. Whoever runs the VPN service has to spend quite a bit of money to get things up and running in the first place. This begs the question, “Why would anyone launch it for free?”
The truth of the matter is that there is a free VPN scam around every corner. You may not have to spend any money with your credit card, but these services will collect your data and sell it to whoever will take it. In this case, your VPN is the entity monitoring your web traffic and selling your activity to advertising networks and other third parties. These types of VPNs are invasive and dangerous. Here is everything you need to know, so you can make an informed decision.
What Types of Free VPNs Are Out There?
No matter what free VPN service you look at, it can be broken down into one of two categories. The first is freemium VPNs. You have likely heard of freemium games for your smartphone. They are free to download, but within the game, there are numerous opportunities for you to spend real money on microtransactions. Freemium VPNs follow a similar format.
You get a free trial of the VPN service, which generally comes with a few downgrades. This occurs in the hopes the free users will eventually upgrade to the paid service. This type of VPN also has downsides for the people who actually pay. With so many free users on the servers, the bandwidth is spread out thinner. Therefore, even the people who pay suffer.
There are also unlimited free VPNs. Users have unlimited access to the servers. A lot of research has been done into this category, and it has found that they can be extremely dangerous. In this system, no one pays the VPN, which means they have to monetize another way. This is the type of VPN that collects users’ data and sells it to other parties. Both of these VPNs have their problems, and here are some of the additional reasons why free VPNs should be avoided at all costs.
What Is Free VPN Malware?
One study has found that more than 38 percent of all free VPN services contain some form of malware. Malware can take different shapes, but ultimately, the goal is to make money off of your data. The malware itself is hidden within the VPN tunnel, and later, it can be used to
- Encrypt or lock your devices until you pay, which is known as ransomware
- Steal all of your digital products and goods
- Steal your money via your credit card details or bank information
- Hijack your online accounts, including your social media profiles
- Hit you with spam emails and targeted advertisements
You can find many of these free VPNs with malware inside the App Store right now. Some of them may even have high ratings and are currently used by millions of people. They may even have great ratings in the app store. People need to remember that some apps purchase good reviews to make themselves more reputable. You need to conduct your own independent research to find a VPN that works best for you that actually protects your privacy.
Can Free VPNs Steal Bandwidth?
Another way free VPNs are dangerous is that they can steal your bandwidth. They then take this bandwidth and resell it to third parties. One VPN called Hola made headlines in 2015 by reselling bandwidth to Luminati, which is the VPN’s sister company. This puts Hola’s users’ data at risk.
Not only was this a severe roadblock in users’ trust. It also came with huge security risks. People within the Hola network were susceptible to hacking and other cyber threats.
What Is Free VPN Tracking?
Some free VPNs will track where you go on the internet and then sell that information to other parties. This is far more prevalent than the presence of malware. One study found that 75 percent out of 283 free VPNs reviewed contained tracking capabilities within the source code. This is a way for tracking libraries to utilize free VPNs to gather user data. This is valuable to certain entities for analytics and advertising.
One example of this taking place is with the VPN called Betternet. This is a free VPN based out of Canada, and one study found that Betternet had 14 unique tracking libraries in its source code. It was also found to have an incredibly high malware presence. Although these types of VPNs advertise themselves as being the only solution to have privacy online, the truth of the matter is that your data is more compromised than ever when you have this app on your phone. These VPNs are technically just spyware advertising themselves as security solutions.
Do Data Leaks Happen?
You need to invest in a great VPN service that actually encrypts and secures your data that goes from your device to the server. It is difficult for any VPN service to be 100 percent clear of any leaks. A hacker dedicated enough can likely find his or her way into any server. However, paid VPNs generally have much greater security in place than free ones.
There are numerous VPN services that leak data, which leaves users exposed. These leaks can take various forms, such as DNS or IP address leaks. These are typical issues with free VPNs. In a study examining 280 free VPNs, 84 percent of them exposed users’ globally-unique IPv6 addresses. Additionally, 66 percent of these VPNs leaked DNS requests, which exposed users’ locations and browsing histories. The entire point of having a VPN is to protect this information, so you are better off not having anything at all.
What Is Browser Hijacking?
There are numerous ways free VPN services can profit off of their users. One of these methods is through browser hijacking. You may have experienced this when the VPN hijacks your browser and redirects it to a partner’s website without your explicit permission. One of the most famous examples of this taking place was with the Hotspot Shield VPN. This is one of the most popular free VPNs in the marketplace and has been used by hundreds of millions of people.
It was discovered that Hotspot Shield redirected users’ HTTP requests to various e-commerce websites, including eBay and Alibaba. In this instance, the partner networks for the VPN were Viglink and Conversant Media. Both of these entities are online advertising agencies. The Federal Trade Commission formally cited Hotspot Shield in 2017 for these privacy violations.
How Is Your Data Shared?
After these VPNs have collected your data, they then sell and transfer it to other parties. Some of the biggest VPN providers in the industry have explicitly stated how they share this data with third parties.
All of this leads to the same conclusion. You are the product. It is the same way companies such as Google and Facebook make money. They take the information you provide and sell it to third parties. In 2017, it was discovered Facebook was gathering users’ data through a free VPN service known as Onavo Protect. By the time the report came out, approximately 24 million users downloaded the VPN.
What Is Free VPN Fraud?
Ultimately, using free VPNs puts you in a precarious position. When you consider the fact numerous VPNs actually share data, implement malware and track your every move, it is easy to see why so many VPNs are fraudulent. Most of the time, this information is present in privacy policies, but a lot of people do not read this. That means if something happens because a VPN leaked your data, the service is not responsible for financial fraud or identity theft. The business model for free VPNs makes them intrinsically risky. Therefore, it is prudent to look at the alternatives, so you can truly be safe as you go online.
How Can You Identify a Risky VPN?
The easiest way to know you are looking at a VPN scam is to look for key words and phrases. You should be wary of any service that promises to be the “fastest” VPN. This is just a marketing tool. Chances are good if a VPN claims to be the fastest, then it probably has mediocre speeds at best.
You should also take any service that promises “100 percent” anonymity with a grain of salt. Even reputable VPNs are not 100 percent leak-proof. Ultimately, the VPN service can still see what you are doing, and it is difficult to keep anyone entirely anonymous online. With that being said, trustworthy VPNs will still let you know about the risks and do their best to protect your privacy.
Other VPN scams will promise “no logs.” PureVPN and ProtonVPN have guaranteed this service. However, you will also find with these services that the information is disclosed and collected. VPN logs are necessary for any service, so you should always read the fine print to see whether the service is truly logless.
Are There Any Good Free VPNs?
- Windscribe: This is a freemium VPN service that provides you with 10 GB of data when you opt for the free service. Paid plans start at $4.08 a month.
- Trust.Zone: You can get a free trial of this service that will either last for three days or until you use up 3 GB of data. Paid plans start at just $3.33 a month.
- TunnelBear: When you sign up for a free trial of TunnelBear, you get 500 MB of data, which will not last you very long. When you opt for the paid plan, you just need to pay $5.00 a month.
There can be some problems with these freemium VPNs. For starters, if you do decide to pay for them, then you will end up subsidizing all of the free users. Your subscription costs pay for all of the free riders, which can end up slowing down your speed. Additionally, you generally cannot get any refunds once you start paying. Unfortunately, you may not realize a VPN has a problem until your free trial is over. Since these free trials do not last long, you may not know if it is a good fit for what you need until it is too late.
Can You Get a Risk-Free VPN Trial?
Freemium VPNs do not give you much in terms of a free trial. That is why you are probably better off getting a free trial from a genuine paid VPN service. For many of these paid services, the free trial lasts for much longer. You can get a much better feel if the VPN is suitable to your needs in this way. There are certain VPNs where you pay for the subscription upfront, but if you are not satisfied for any reason within 30 days, you can get a full refund. A 30-day free trial is the best you will find in the industry, and there are a couple of great services to look into.
NordVPN is an excellent VPN service that is actually affordable. With a discount code, you end up only paying $2.99 a month. This service is based out of Panama, and it has a stringent no-logs policy. Customer privacy is the goal here. It also offers a great array of reliable and secure applications that are suitable for various platforms. Some other great features it has include CyberSec ad blocking, Tor-over-VPN servers and double-VPN servers. The only factor to bear in mind is that the speed can be shoddy due to the different servers located in the network.
You should also look into ExpressVPN. Many people have been satisfied with this service due to its leak-proof apps and superb speeds. It features AES 256-bit encryption and enhanced leak-protection settings, so your data is as secure as it is going to get. Its jurisdiction is in the British Virgin Islands, which is one of the best places for privacy. When you look at VPN rankings for security and privacy, you will not find anything better. It is also one of the best VPNs if your primary goal with a VPN is to stream and torrent video. Its price is at $6.67, but you may be able to find coupons for it to save a little bit.
What Does All of This Mean?
Sadly, the free VPN scam shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. As consumers become increasingly aware that corporations and governments no longer have their privacy and security online at heart, more people will rely on VPNs. There will always be entities looking to take advantage of this, so the best policy is to be aware of the apps and software you put on your electronic devices.
Something may be present on the Apple Store or Google Play, but that does not always mean it is reliable. Plenty of invasive and malicious VPNs make their way into these stores, and they flood the pages with excellent reviews. Some of these VPNs will come from countries with dubious jurisdictions, which will not obey Western privacy regulations and laws.
At the end of the day, there is only one way to stay safe. You need to pay for your VPN. A free VPN is too good to be true. Even though you have to pay for privacy, many reputable VPNs genuinely do not cost much. For a few dollars a month, you can enjoy enhanced privacy and protection. All you have to do is give up one cup of coffee at Starbucks a month, and you can browse the internet with peace of mind.