During the past years, I have written several articles on VPNs and one of the most common things people ask me is:
I found this free VPN. What do you think of it?
So, this article is especially dedicated to those people. In it, I expose 6 reasons why you should avoid using a free VPN:
- Offering a VPN service is not free
- Some companies sell their users’ bandwidth
- Some companies collect and sell your internet use data
- Some providers modify the web code to show ads
- Many VPNs don’t really offer secure connections
- VPN services can be used by scammers
You can click here to read our comparative review of the three VPNs that we currently recommend.
Disclaimer: While this article is based on the common practices of some rather well-known free VPN providers, I have avoided naming them as to not promote companies whose business model (in my understanding) borders on illegal.
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.
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!
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. In my experience, no free VPNs work well in China, even though I have to admit that because of the previously mentioned reasons, I haven’t used them much.
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 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/]