This article is divided in 2 parts:
- In the first part, we review Tunnelbear, in our opinion the best free VPN in the market, especially if you want to use it in China
- In the second part, we expose 6 reasons for which oftentimes using a free VPN is not a good idea, unless you know exactly what you are doing.
Tunnelbear – The best free VPN for China (in our opinion)
However, if you want a VPN with good performance in China or to get around geographic restrictions (for example, to watch Netflix), we recommend that you choose one of the premium VPNs that we recommend in this article on the best VPNs for China (updated monthly).
Encryption protocols: OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2
Simultaneous connections: 5 connections
Server count and location: Servers in 20 countries
Server changes: Unlimited
Applications: Windows, Mac, Android and iOS
Trial period or guaranteed money back: 500Mb free per month
After-sale service: Fast service via tickets (no live chat)
Extras: GhostBear (Ofuscation), Kill Switch (VigilantBear), browser extensions (Chrome, Opera and Firefox).
What I like the most about TunnelBear VPN
Free: TunnelBear gives you 500 MB per month for free. In addition, it’s one of the only low-cost or free VPNs that doesn’t compromise your privacy or security.
Easy to use: Its apps are very easy for everybody to use.
GhostBear: Despite being a low-cost VPN, it offers the possibility of obfuscated connections, which prevent the connection from being identified as a VPN, which is very useful for getting around geographic restrictions and censorship. However, it’s not as powerful as other VPNs, as for example, Tunnel Bear won’t let you watch Netflix.
What I like the least about TunnelBear VPN
Speed: As tends to be the case with cheap VPNs and those offering free services, this greatly affects the VPN’s performance, as they can’t maintain a lot of servers and the majority tend to be saturated with users.
Performance in China: In addition to its poor performance, TunnelBear doesn’t offer the possibility of using OpenVPN on iOS devices, which is currently the only protocol that usually works in China. There are much more stable and faster VPNs for China.
App simplicity: Despite the fact that the app is very easy to use, for advanced users, it might seem too simple, as you can’t customize practically anything.
External audits: TunnelBear states that it was the first VPN to be subject to external auditing to demonstrate that it doesn’t participate in the doubtful practices that are very common among VPN providers (especially free VPNs), such as selling bandwidth and browsing data, offering low security levels or even installing malware. The audit carried out by Cure53 found a few vulnerabilities that were later corrected, which seems to indicate a credible and rigorous audit.
How much does it cost and what option should I choose?
Currently, TunnelBear offers three types of plans:
Free plan: 500 Mb of data for free per month.
Monthly plan: 9.99 USD per month.
Annual plan: 49.99 USD (4.17 USD per month).
It’s clear that TunnelBear makes sense if you choose the free subscription with a one-time use of the monthly plan if you run out of data before the month is over. Remember that you have to cancel the subscription if you don’t want to use the unlimited data plans, as otherwise you might be automatically charged for the renewal.
Who do I recommend this VPN for?
In my opinion, Tunnel Bear is recommendable for people that want to use their VPN in a very limited way, such as for sending WhatsApp messages, as in this case, you don’t need a lot of speed and the 500 MB for free should be more than enough for one month (unless you send and receive photos and videos all day).
6 reasons to avoid most of free VPN
In this second part of the article, I expose 6 reasons why you should avoid using most of free VPN.
Offering a VPN service is not free
This is the main reason why you should never trust a free VPN.
To offer a free VPN service, is it necessary to have servers in various countries. For example, ExpressVPN has more than 1,000 servers located around the world. The cost, whether to maintain or rent them, is high, and can amount to thousands of dollars for each server, depending on the volume of the traffic they are able to withstand.
Unless you believe that someone is going to be so generous as to spend thousands of dollars so that you can use a free VPN, the questions is: where does the money to offer a free VPN come from?
While I imagine that there are thousands of ways to make a profit off of a VPN, in the following sections, you will see some of the methods that the most famous VPNs use to make money.
Some companies sell their users’ bandwidth
As I said at the beginning, maintaining servers isn’t exactly cheap and because of this, some VPNs have designed a system to lower costs; that is, using their users as servers (converting them into a botnet), which is similar to what Tor does. Some VPN providers have even been revealed to sell your bandwidth to other companies. This has two basic problems:
- Your computer and internet connection will go much slower: This is because you are letting other users use your bandwidth and processor
- You are going to be responsible for what other users connected to your computer do: that means that because the users are connected to your computer, when they browse, your IP will appear, and as a result, if they do something illegal, you are going to be responsible.
Below, I have added an extract from the FAQ of one of the most famous VPNs (it is even recommended by CNN and Business Insider):
X is a Peer-to-Peer VPN community, where users help other users make the web global again. This means that X redirects traffic through other nodes (Peers) in its network, as opposed to routing via expensive servers.
Basically, they acknowledge that they don’t have servers and that they use your computer as a server. What they don’t specify (and which has been proven) is that later they sell this to paid users of other companies. That means that you are basically letting paid users of other companies use your bandwidth so that this company can make money.
Some companies collect and sell your internet use data
In 2013, Facebook bought a free VPN app for 120 million dollars, and other companies have followed in its footsteps. Why? The reason is very simple: what these apps or software do instead of providing you with a secure connection is to collect all of the information on your use of apps, web pages visited, what you buy online, etc. This information is very valuable and they use it either to sell to other companies or for their own benefit.
The personal information that we collect and store includes your name, IP address, email address, your use of moblie applications and data, and can include the combination of said information (including identity information) with information that we receive from business partners or third parties; said information can be used to offer market analyses and related services to business partners or third parties, and to operate services, such as virtual private networks and device tracking.
They are basically saying that they will use your information for whatever they want.
Some providers modify the web code to show ads
This is another one of the ways to make money off of VPNs, although this is a practice that is much more common with proxies (it is estimated that around 25% of proxies do it).
X may share anonymous data with third parties, including their affiliates, advertisers and current and future business partners. X can use anonymous data collected for the administration of websites, advertising and other promotional purposes, and may share said information with diverse affiliated and non-affiliated entities to those ends. It may also establish agreements with external companies, which permit the personalization of advertising and marketing messages to users while they use X, and these external companies may access the anonymous data collected from users.
This basically says that they will collect all of your information to sell it or to show you advertisements while you use it. So, be careful about the VPN software you install, because this isn’t very far off from malware.
Many VPNs don’t really offer secure connections
One of the most common uses of VPNs is to improve security when browsing the internet. If this is your case, don’t even consider a free VPN, because as you have seen in the previous sections, free VPNs aren’t exactly secure.
A good VPN will have its own servers and encryption protocols designed for it, so that information passes through as few people as possible, reducing possible security failures to a minimum.
Free VPNs as well as many low-cost VPNs don’t have their own servers and their encryption protocols have been designed by others.
To conclude, if you want a VPN that is actually secure and efficient, just pay for a good service.
VPN services can be used by scammers
Using a VPN means that you are redirecting all of your web traffic through a server controlled by the service provider, which means that this provider has access to everything you are doing. This is basically a paradise for scammers, who can collect bank information, access to user accounts, etc.
In any case, it is more and more common to report VPNs for inserting malware (malicious software) into users’ devices.
If you want a secure and fast VPN that doesn’t sell your browsing data to third parties, I recommend that you read our comparative review of three excellent VPNs that we currently recommend. You will see the difference!
If you are still convinced to buy a free VPN, before downloading any VPN check out Tunnelbear.
Free VPNs in China
It’s one thing to make a VPN work in the United State or Europe, but it’s another thing to make it work in China (or another country with internet restrictions). In China, the difference between good VPNs and others is very obvious, as for a VPN to offer good service in China, it is essential for it to have good servers and good encryption protocols.
Even many paid VPNs don’t work or don’t work well in China, and offer speeds that are incompatible with any use, such as having a Skype conversation or watching a YouTube video.
If you are in China or another country where there are internet restrictions and you are using a free VPN, you will have realized that often it is torture every time you want to look up something on the internet. Do yourself a favor and invest 8 USD per month for a good VPN and stop losing time every time that you connect to the internet.
[Photo Credits (Creative Commons License): www.flickr.com/photos/byeangel/]