Free is my favourite word and if you can get something for free then why pay for it?
When it comes to VPN services though there are many hidden nasties in ‘Free’ VPN services and in this guide I’m going to take a look at 8 of them.
This is not an extensive list of reasons why you shouldn’t use ‘Free’ VPN services. It is, however, a round-up of some of the most severe issues and why I and many others steer well clear of ‘Free’ VPN services.
You may be wondering why I’ve highlighted the word ‘Free’ in this way, but as you’ll see from below, ‘Free’ VPN services are anything but free.
Here’s a list of the quite scary reasons you’ll want to avoid ‘Free’ VPN services.
1. Install malware or other damaging apps
When you install a ‘Free’ VPN app, they often install added extras that you weren’t expecting, nor should expect.
In fact, in a study by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, research discovered that out of 234 ‘Free’ VPN apps they tested, 38% of them contained some kind of additional malware.
The majority of this malware related to tracking users somehow, which goes to prove the old saying, if you’re not paying for the service, then you are the service. ‘Free’ VPN providers make money by hawking your data.
2. Utilise your internet connection
One of the most well-known ‘Free’ VPN services Hola was found in 2015 to be using users’ internet connections to power their VPN service.
This meant while you’re receiving a VPN service, your home connection is being used to power the service for others. The dangers of this are clear and even quite scary. Anything other users do could be linked to your internet connection and then you would be responsible for explaining how and why.
3. Leakier than a dripping pipe
‘Free’ VPN services are often under-resourced and under-staffed. This leads to a far inferior service than one you’re paying people to maintain.
In early 2018 security researcher Paulo Stagno discovered that a whole host of VPN services were leaking IP Addresses by the historical WebRTC issue.
While most decent VPN providers had long fixed this issue although admittedly there were one or two commercial providers in the list, the overwhelming majority of providers facing WebRTC leaks were what would be considered ‘Free’ VPN services.
IP Address leaks and DNS leaks should be avoided at all costs – sadly many VPNs that aren’t paid-for fall victim to these.
4. Slurp up your private information
If you think a ‘Free’ VPN service will protect your privacy, then think again. Facebook recently launched their own VPN app called “Protect” but if the security industries warnings are anything to go by then this is best avoided.
While Facebook already knows a little bit too much about you, their built-in VPN app will allow them to monitor what you do across your whole device because all of your data will pass through Facebook’s hands.
For that reason, Facebook’s VPN app and other ‘Free’ VPN apps are best avoided.
5. When ‘Free’ VPN services are nothing more than proxies
Free ‘VPN’ services often market themselves as a VPN but are nothing more than a simple proxy. You’ll know this when the app to install works only on your web browser and doesn’t protect any of the other data passing over your connection.
While they’re marketed as VPN services, they are not VPN services in the true sense of the word and do not protect users fully.
Not only is this risky but they’re also likely to contain flaws. In a recent case well-known browser extension ‘VPN’ Hotspot Shield was found to be leaking user’s private details.
6. Slower than a Snail travelling through glue
Give something for free that many people want and many people will jump on it. ‘Free’ VPN services have limited funding because they use tactics like selling your data to generate funds.
Rather than each user paying this results in there being more users on the service than the service can cope with. The result is incredibly slow speeds. Forget downloading or streaming video in high-quality because it just isn’t happening on a service you’re not paying for.
7. Doesn’t unblock many of the services you’ll want
Due to the sheer numbers of users and the lack of funding to maintain the ‘Free’ VPN service, it means many of the services that you’re trying to unblock won’t work.
Free VPN services are notoriously bad for allowing you to bypass restrictions and access video content. There’s simply no way you’re gaining access to many types of streaming services using ‘Free’ VPN services.
8. Injects adverts into your connection
As if adverts online weren’t bad enough, there are reports that some ‘Free’ VPN services insert adverts into your connection.
For example, you could visit a website that doesn’t contain adverts but the VPN service will add adverts into your connection which shouldn’t be visible on that website.
Again, if you’re not paying for the service, then the service wants to make money somehow. That can result in annoying adverts or pop-ups as you try to use the internet uninterrupted.
So, what can you do?
Although free VPNs sound like a greal deal the obvious solution is to avoid them at all costs. You’re probably safer in the long run using no VPN service than using a free one.
If you absolutely must use a free VPN service, then it’s probably best to look for one run by a commercial VPN provider who also offers a paid VPN service alongside. At least this way you understand how the service is paid for.
Alternatively, there are plenty of other options in our VPN Comparison Guide to suit all budgets.
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Have you had a bad experience with free VPN providers? I would love to know in the comments section below, so why not share your story.