In this age of relentless internet surveillance and password-stealing malware, more consumers are relying on VPNs to protect their online privacy. VPN software enables users to use the internet in a safe and secure environment. So, as more people become privacy-conscious, the VPN market will continue to grow to meet the demand. Currently, there are thousands of VPN services designed to keep you safe. Some of them promise to do so at no extra cost.
Disclosure: This is a guest post and the author’s views here do not necessarily reflect those of the blog owner.
As you know, a free VPN is very tempting. Like most people, you are probably trying to reduce your online spending or even get out of paying for online services altogether. However, when it comes to your private information, free is never good. As you are about to see, using a free VPN could mean compromising your security and privacy.
When you choose a free VPN service, there is no value in trust between the two of you. If there is one thing that you wouldn’t want to skimp on, it’s trust. Think of a VPN as a bodyguard of your treasured things like your bank account. So, when you are roaming on the lanes of public Wi-Fi, your VPN will keep away potential password pickpockets and other bullies that might attack you. But if you have no way of trusting your bodyguard, why would you want him or her to protect your most valuable assets?
Here are 5 reasons you should never use a Free VPN
1. Using a Free VPN means compromising your security
Most free VPNs give you an illusion of security when, in reality, they are nothing more than a simple proxy. Sadly, anything installed on your web browser may not protect all the data passing through your connection.
For VPNs to offer maximum protection, they need a protocol that makes it easier for various servers to communicate with each other. On top of this, they also need the encryption technology that secures the data passing through the network. Unfortunately, most free VPNs don’t have the best encryption technologies or protocols available to them.
Free VPNs are always under-resources. You see, a VPN is a multifaceted software that requires a great deal of investment to set up and operate. So, most free VPN services rely on a third-party server list that is freely available on the internet. In short, you are getting a far inferior service than the one you are paying to maintain.
One of the prominent VPN service providers, Hola, advertises its free VPN as a peer-to-peer service. What this means is that traffic is routed through each user’s IP address to avoid detection. Therefore, it isn’t a surprise that a lot of free VPN services out there are leaking IP addresses.
Perhaps the greatest danger of using such services is that some providers sell anonymized IP addresses, which often go through your connection. So, any illegal activity carried out by shady characters within the network can be falsely attributed to you.
2. Free VPNs track your online activities and selling your personal data
Just like there isn’t such a thing as a free lunch, there is nothing like a free VPN. As you know, setting up and operating a VPN service is no joke. So, if you aren’t paying for it, who is the financier? The simple answer is that you are the one paying the piper; your data pays for all that.
Most free VPN services generate revenue from your data. Ironically, one of the biggest reasons people use a VPN is to protect their data. So, if you are thinking you have stopped your ISP from selling your usage information, you have just swapped one tracker for another one. If you are still in denial, here are the facts. A recent CSIRO research investigated 283 VPNs, and it found out that over 75% of free VPNs have some form of tracking.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, these providers will bombard you with online ads. For instance, you could open a website that rarely has ads on it, but the free VPN app will add adverts to your connection. Most of these VPNs use third-party ad networks to execute this business model. In fact, never before has it been easier for ad networks to get this kind of information about internet users.
If you are already getting these annoying ads on your computer, you can get rid of them is by using a Mac or PC cleaning software. Alternatively, you can use a cache cleaner for Android if you are using a smartphone. Apart from diagnosing errors, these tools will delete junk files on your systems, including your browser history. This way, your data will no longer be accessible by free third-party apps.
3. Free VPNs slow down your internet
As you would expect, anything given for free will attract many people. And as you have seen above, free VPNs mostly rely on advertising revenue to run their services. So, their main goal is to bring on board as more users as possible to generate funds, which often results in more users on the service than the service can sustain. If users exceed a specific limit, using the internet will become virtually impossible.
The second reason has to do with inadequate maintenance. Given that the VPN service is offered for free and mostly operated by unmotivated staff, you really don’t expect their servers to be uptime all the time. Moreover, these servers are likely to be old, poorly maintained, and probably run on outdated technology. Therefore, they may experience constant breakdowns or suffer from infections, making it impossible to operate. So, unless you have a premium VPN, you may not be able to fix a slow torrent download.
4. Free VPNs sell your bandwidth
Some well-known free VPN services, such as Hola, have had a reputation for utilizing their users’ internet bandwidth to run their services. What it means is that while you may be getting a free VPN service, the same company is using your home internet connection, which can lead to incredibly slow internet speeds.
Sometimes, these companies may sell your bandwidth to other users. In fact, Hola admitted that it stole VPN users’ bandwidth and sold it to Luminati customers. Unfortunately, tens of thousands of customers had used the service before the charade came crashing down in mid-2015. And this is only one example. There could be hundreds or thousands of such companies that exploit innocent users.
5. Free VPNs can be bundled with dangerous freebies
With the increasing interest in VPN services, several malware actors are entering the space to trick unsuspecting users. These characters offer something that looks like a free VPN when, in reality, they are making you install malware on your device. Surprisingly, most of these malware relates to tracking users.
Bottom line: Get a reliable VPN
While a VPN service is an expensive venture, it does not mean that you need to fork out thousands of dollars to get a reliable product. Many reputable VPNs offer their services at affordable prices. But you should note that not all paid VPNs are the same. For this reason, you need to analyze the fine print. Check the information that the VPN collects and what it doesn’t. A reliable VPN shouldn’t keep any logs. Secondly, you should scrutinize the list of access permissions. Look for anything that looks suspicious – for instance, VPNs that request for your precise GPS location or call log.
For better protection, you may want to set up your VPN at the router level. Doing this will help you channel traffic from all your devices through the VPN network. If you are an advanced user, consider setting up your own VPN. All you need to do is to pay for a cloud service or hosting on a server, then install a VPN server and connect to it. The only challenge is that the hosting service provider may also spy on you, which calls for extra scrutiny when selecting your hosting company.
You now know why you shouldn’t use a free VPN and how to get a safe one, so the choice is yours. If, for any reason, you can’t use a premium VPN service, at least, clean up your device using your favourite Android, PC, or Mac cleaning tool. Some of these tools have built-in privacy protection features. Be sure to check out Software Tested to learn more about VPN technology.
This is a guest post by Dan Mutai Byline.
Daniel Mutai is a versatile researcher and content strategist with a passion for content marketing, digital media, Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, and technology in general. He currently works as an SEO Copywriter at Softwaretested.com, where he writes on a wide range of tech subtopics, including VPN technology and troubleshooting guides for Mac, Windows, and Android platforms.