Free VPNs (virtual private networks) are too good to be true. You can download a variety of free VPN apps from the Google Play or Apple App Store, but you shouldn’t. These apps aren’t worthy of your trust.
How a VPN Works
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, encrypts all the traffic sent over your Internet connection and sends it to a remote VPN server. Everything goes through the VPN server.
For example, let’s say you’re in the USA and you connect to a VPN server located in the UK. Then, you access websites like Google and Facebook. Your web browsing traffic is sent over the Internet through an encrypted connection to the VPN server. Your local network operator or Internet service provider can’t see you’re connecting to Google or Facebook. They just see an encrypted connection going to an IP address in the UK. Google and Facebook just see you as someone located in the UK.
People use VPN servers for a variety of reasons. They keep your browsing activity private from your Internet service provider, for example. If your local government censors the Internet, a VPN would let you bypass the censorship and browse as if you were in whatever country the VPN server is located in. VPNs would also let you use public Wi-Fi hotspots without the threat of snooping.
You’re Placing a Lot of Trust in Your VPN Operator
While using a VPN, you’re placing an immense amount of trust in the VPN operator. A VPN prevents your Internet service provider or Wi-Fi hotspot operator from snooping on your browsing. But it doesn’t stop the operator of the VPN server from snooping.
When your traffic leaves the VPN, the operator of the VPN server can see the websites you’re accessing. If you’re accessing unencrypted HTTP websites, the VPN operator can see the full content of the pages. The operator could keep logs on this data or sell it for advertising purposes.
Let’s put it this way: when you use a VPN, you’re preventing the hotspot at the hotel or airport and your Internet service provider from spying on your traffic. But you’re letting the VPN provider spy on your traffic instead. Why would you trust a free VPN provider you’ve never heard of?
A recent investigation by Metric Labs spotted by The Register drew attention to this problem, discovering the majority of free VPN apps have links to China and 86% of them had unsatisfactory privacy policies. Some explicitly stated they transfer user data to China. Most of them had customer support emails pointing to generic personal email accounts on services like Gmail or Hotmail. These don’t sound like services worthy of your trust.
What You Should Use Instead
Stay away from free VPNs. It costs a company money to host a VPN server and pay for traffic, so why would that company give you a free service without getting something out of it?
As a free VPN for occasional use, we recommend Tunnelbear. This service only gives you 500 MB of data every month, which isn’t much. But it’s well-regarded, and the company’s business model is selling you unlimited VPN data. It’s like a free sample every month, but it can do if you only occasionally need VPN service in a pinch.
(Image Source: iCLIPART)