Finding a good VPN is a bit like finding a good restaurant. There are hundreds of options, each with its own menu of features, and you know if you pick badly you could be cheated, ignored, or infected with bugs.
Like anything else, you get what you pay for. That $5 all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet is why you spent the day in the bathroom, and that free VPN is why your computer’s bricked.
Opting for the cheapest (read: free) might seem like a good idea, but it usually isn’t. After all, your computer, privacy, and data are at stake – you want them in the best hands, right?
Take security, for example.
Almost all free VPNs use a very old and outdated protocol called PPTP (Point-to-Point-Tunnelling-Protocol). It’s super easy to set up, but infamous for its security flaws – some of which were discovered back in 1998 by Bruce Schneier, tech blogger and IBM Resilient’s CTO. You don’t need much fancy software or hardware to do it either – anyone with a laptop and evil intent can have a go.
Paid-for VPNs use a selection of far more robust protocols, such as IKEv2, OpenVPN, and L2TP. Better yet, you can choose which protocol to use, finding that balance between security and speed – VPN Unlimited has five to pick from. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather pay a little upfront than expose all my data (and dollars) to some opportunistic hacker.
Then there’s the slow connection speeds.
Everyone loves free stuff, so chances are your free VPN will have hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of subscribers, each with their own drain on bandwidth. And because free VPNs don’t charge a fee, they’re less likely to have the servers to cope with demand, and that’ll slow your connection.
It’s also increasingly common for free VPNs to share servers with other providers. While this saves them money, it could slow your internet access during busy times. Paid-for VPNs can usually afford their own servers and can optimise them to work with their network, apps, and hardware. PureVPN, for example, owns over 750. But more importantly, ownership means full control of traffic, which allows your VPN to operate efficiently and optimise speed.
That leads us nicely to the third problem with free VPNs – your privacy.
Since you’re not paying for their service, they’ve got to make money another way. This could be in the form of annoying adverts, or worse, selling your usage data to third parties. Scarily, not all VPNs tell you about this. Just finding out whether they’ll log your use is hard enough – it’s normally buried somewhere in your terms and conditions.
A 2016 review of VPN services for Android devices concluded that 75% of those studied tracked your data – whether they said they would or not. While they won’t always sell this data on, you won’t know for sure, and a free VPN has to make money somehow. You might want to check out that VPN you’ve been thinking of on this comparison table from That One Privacy Site.
Just like Facebook, if the service is free, you’re the product. Opting for a paid-for VPN increases your privacy protection because the VPN has a visible business model and fewer reasons to sell your data. VPN Secure, for instance, promises never to log your data and will even “move jurisdictions” to keep their word.
Finally, free VPNs won’t have as many servers, in as many countries, and as many support staff operating them. You’ll have fewer options to mimic geolocation, and fewer people to talk to (if any!) when things go wrong.
So it makes sense to choose a well-reviewed, well-respected, and honest VPN provider that charges you a fair price for a good service. We’ve put together a list of our favourites to help you choose. And while they might not be free, I’m sure you’ll agree they’re worth spending on.