What’s not to like?
We can all do with something that’s free from time-to-time can’t we?
Like free trials for premium products, or “buy one get one free” – where’s the harm in free?
Well, as it turns out, with free VPNs, there’s actually quite a lot of harm you could be doing to your online and offline data.
A number of articles over the last few years, along with some very worrying articles in the last couple of months have highlighted the potential dangers of using free VPNs.
Let’s start with the premise that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. The providers of free VPN services need to make their money somewhere. So let’s look at some of the ways they do that – visibly and invisibly:
- A recent study of free VPNs showed that 38% of them showed signs of infection – malware. Not surprisingly, that malware was primarily in the form of adware – showing you adverts at every turn in the hope you’ll buy something, and the free VPN provider will get a commission.
- 72% of free VPNs contain third-party trackers into their software so that your online habits can be monitored and better-targeted adverts served-up to you – presumably via the malware that was shown to be present on 38% of free VPNs. While you might have gone to a VPN seeking privacy, their practices might just have delivered you the opposite.
- Some free VPN services limit the amount of data you can use, hoping that you’ll eventually pay-up to unlock more once you’ve got through their free quota.
- Poor quality VPNs (free and otherwise) can drastically reduce your connection speed. Free VPNs might throttle the speed they allow you to connect with, in the hope that you’ll pay to increase that speed later – another way of earning revenue from a free “teaser”.
- Other free VPN providers openly (and not so openly) state that they will “sell your bandwidth” to other paying subscribers when you’re not using it. That means that when you’re not using your device, or not using much of its processing power, the VPN app you have installed will borrow some of that device’s processing capacity and offer it to other, paying, customers in the VPN network. This sounds very much like how botnets start – and in fact, in one example, a VPN provider’s whole free network was actually taken over by cyber-criminals via a botnet attack.
- And finally, if all you’re looking for from a VPN service is to be able to bypass geographical restrictions on streaming services like Netflix, chances are you’ll be out of luck there too. It takes premium, paid-for VPN services a huge amount of time and effort to find ways around the extremely tough geoblocking that major streaming sites incorporate into their service to protect themselves against licensing breaches. Free VPNs don’t stand a chance, and even if you find one that runs a server that does work for you, it’s very likely it’ll either be shut down by the streaming service very quickly, or it’ll run so slow that the buffering will prevent you from enjoying what you were trying to watch in the first place.
If you’re in the market for the kinds of benefits a VPN can bring, it’s more than a little ironic that by pursuing a free option, you’re very likely to end up with precisely the opposite:
- Instead of enhanced security, you could be opening your device up to any kind of malware.
- Where you were hoping for increased privacy, you might find you’re being tracked more closely than not using a VPN at all.
- If you were looking for stable and reliable connections at the best speed your line can muster, very often you’ll find that you’ll get a slower, much more intermittent connection than you would have had without.
So, on this occasion, less is very definitely not more. That free lunch you thought you were getting is going to end up costing you … and at the end of the day, where VPNs are concerned, you very definitely get what you pay for.
If you’d like to check out some long-established, independently audited VPN services, take a look here at a selection we’ve laid out for you …