Is a Free VPN Safe? What’s the Catch?

Free VPN

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are in high demand now that many people concern about their online privacy. As a result, the virtual private network (VPN) market is growing exponentially to meet these expectations. Now, you can find countless free services that promise safety and security without an extra cost.

That deal sounds great as long as you’re not aware of the catch. VPNs use complicated software that hides user data, including your IP address, location, personal data, and even the VPN itself, through protocols and encryption. Every single one of them requires some investment to maintain the service.

How do you think free VPN providers offer you their services? These companies have to turn a profit somehow, and in doing so, they might leave you worse than before. Sure, some do work, but in turn, they’re severely limited.

You can find everything about free VPN in this article, whether they’re safe, how they compare to paid ones, and the best ones you can find.

Is There a 100% Free VPN Service?

People should be at least slightly suspicious of free products and services, and free VPNs aren’t an exception. While there are secure and free VPN services, they have their limitations. However, others only claim to be safe, but in reality, they have unfavorable privacy policies, and that’s just the tip of it.

What Are the Differences Between Paid VPN and Free VPN Services?

As we’ve said, few VPNs have a completely free, trustworthy option, and the few legitimate ones that offer them significantly restrict their services. Some limit your amount of data per month; others limit your number of connections or the number of server locations.

A free VPN provider often employs some of these measures or all of them at once. However, the vast majority of them are data farms. Their supposedly free VPN collects and sells personal data to interested third parties. They can keep your logs and even sell your bandwidth.

Meanwhile, paid VPNs typically don’t have these restrictions or problems, but that doesn’t mean every service is secure. There are still some shady ones with inadequate policies and practices, but they’re still not as bad as the vast majority of free VPNs. Most premium ones don’t have reasons to keep logs, monitor your online activity, or track your connection considering they make money from subscriptions.

What Are the Reasons You Shouldn’t Use a Free VPN?

Some people claim that you’re the end product if you don’t pay for a service. This mainly applies to free VPNs, but it doesn’t mean that every paid option is safe.

Regardless, it’s more about where the priority of these companies lies. A company that only provides a free service likely doesn’t have your best interests at heart. In the case of free VPN providers, here is how you end up paying:

They steal your bandwidth. This practice isn’t particularly new. These providers can make off with your data for their service, making your PC behave as another server. This results in your speed slowing down as numerous users begin routing through your internet connection.

It wouldn’t be rare to find that you unknowingly gave consent to this due to a fine print in their terms and conditions. These free VPN providers may also sell your bandwidth to other companies.

They contain malware. Malware is software designed to harm your computer, and it has many types, including trojans, adware, and spyware. Regardless, when it comes to free VPNs, the intention is profiting off your data. Hidden malware can target you with ads and spam e-mail. These can also steal your accounts and card details or hijack them altogether.

They track their users’ data. Facebook, a company that generates several privacy concerns due to its revenue model, bought the VPN app Onavo, which had a free version available. Then, it proceeded to run it secretly to collect and sell the data from its free users to other companies or use it for its own means.

This situation occurs with many free VPN providers. When they sell your data to third parties, they’re able to target you with malware and spam. In some cases, they expressly lay it out in their privacy policies, but it doesn’t make it any better. After all, it makes it risky to use the internet while connected to the free VPN.

They provide third-party access to your data. As we previously stated, free VPNs tend to collect and sell your data, including personal information. In most cases, they do this to target you with more relevant ads. However, some companies don’t stop there. They might do what they desire with it and put you at risk.

They have limited security features. These service providers often possess limited functionality, meaning you don’t get adequate security features such as a proper kill-switch, DNS leak protection, and other essential protocols.

Your identity is left somewhat unsecured, and the software may expose it if something goes wrong at an inopportune moment. Most free VPNs tend to provide L2TP and PPTP protocols. Some don’t even offer a functional VPN service. Instead, they work as a proxy and leave your IP address out in the open.

They may result in financial fraud and identity theft. These services partner with other parties and provide them access to your user data, possibly causing these potential issues. The reason is that although they offer you the VPN, they have to collaborate with other companies to finance it, and they put you at risk for it.

What Should You Consider When Buying a Paid VPN Service?

The best alternative to using free VPNs is buying a reliable and secure VPN service. It would be best to get one that values its users and provides them with a good experience on top of every essential feature a VPN should have. Here are some of the factors you should consider when purchasing a VPN.

Privacy policy. VPNs located in Europe or those that serve Europeans have to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation. Under this legislature, companies have to divulge any data they collect from their users or face hefty fines.

VPN companies under this regulation need to have a transparent Privacy Policy regarding data usage. If you know that a particular free or paid VPN operates in Europe, you can read it to see whether it misuses your data.

Technical and legal security. VPN companies should have the required expertise to maintain your internet traffic private. Their protocols and encryption algorithms must be secure, and they should have leak protection measures as well.

The best way to complement excellent protocols and encryptions is by having legal security. Checking whether the VPN’s main office is in a country with strong data protection laws is vital. The best-case scenario is that the company isn’t in a country that’s part of the five, nine, or fourteen eyes surveillance agreements.

Versatility and ease of use. Using a free VPN or a paid one with a rough user interface isn’t worth the time. VPNs nowadays can be straightforward, so if you’re unable to access the setting you want in a short time, you should consider another one.

It should be easy to use regardless of the platform you’re using, whether it’s a PC, laptop, or smartphone. The VPN should allow multiple connections as well.

Third-party audited. VPNs can claim anything, but until an independent third-party verifies them, you can only take them at their word. Some companies that have checked VPN apps and whether they keep logs are QSCert, PwC, and Cure53.

Speed. This factor is the most important one for many. After all, no one likes to see their speed slow down due to their VPN connection. As far as the VPN is concerned, you only need to look for a company that offers multiple options. It can prove essential to have distinct configurations to ensure you can have high speeds while streaming, torrenting, or else.

Pricing. The cost is the first thing that many people consider, especially if they’re pondering whether or not to use a VPN with a free version. Most of the time, it isn’t worth using it if you can afford a premium one.

Paid VPNs always have more features and are more reliable than free ones. Still, their price can vary significantly. Check whether they have accessible plans, offer money-back guarantees, and if they change costs after the first month or year.

What Are the Best Free VPNs?

If you’re still considering getting a free VPN, then you should get one of the following. These have a no-logs policy in their terms of service and were audited at some point by a security company or have transparency reports. They have various limiting factors, but they’re the most trustworthy and reliable options available:

Proton Free VPN

ProtonVPN

ProtonVPN has both a free version and a premium one. This is the only free VPN that offers unlimited data, which is enormous compared to most others that deliver from 500MB to 10GB per month. Also, the premium service is one of the most affordable ones at $5.00 per month. It provides a 30-day money-back guarantee as well.

Still, it has a couple of detriments. ProtonVPN has limited server locations, including the US, Netherlands, and Japan. Regarding speed, it doesn’t precisely throttle it, but it does use a low priority connection that slows down at peak hours when many paying users start to use it.

If you were considering a free VPN for streaming, this one isn’t suitable. ProtonVPN states that you have to upgrade to Plus if you want to use it for that. Otherwise, its performance is irregular.

This provider has a strict no-log policy and advanced protocols and encryptions. It has clients for Mac and Windows and apps for Android and iOS. Overall, ProtonVPN might be the best free VPN available and the most trustworthy one as well.

Windscribe free vpn logo

Windscribe

Winscribe is a decent free VPN that supports most operating systems and devices. It has excellent security measures, but its privacy policy states that they keep some activity logs. These logs include the last time you were active, the amount of data transferred per month, and the transaction ID of your payment (for 30 days only.)

Free users have 11 server locations available that have high speeds and are spread worldwide. You can also use it on any number of devices. However, this VPN provider has a low data limit of 2GB each month which you can increase to 10GB per month if you give them your e-mail.

It isn’t the most intuitive VPN available, but it’s among the best free ones. Windscribe has good speeds but a hindering data limit. The Pro version has a monthly cost of $9.00.

TunnelBear free vpn logo

TunnelBear

TunnelBear is a reliable free VPN that has a simple user interface. Installing the software is quick, and the user interface’s style is unique and pleasing too. The security and encryption are up to date, and its free version doesn’t cap your speeds.

In addition, free users can have every server location available, which number up to 26. It’s available for Linux, Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android, and you can use it on multiple devices. However, TunnelBear has a glaring downside. Its data limit is only 500MB per month. You can increase it by 1 GB by tweeting about TunnelBear, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

It might be the best free VPN for server locations, but it has a pretty atrocious bandwidth limit. You might put it to use in specific situations but don’t think about streaming with it.

Are There Premium VPN Services You Can Try Without Risks?

Testing a premium product might be time-consuming, but it’s the best way to figure out which VPN you prefer. Most of them are more secure, offer unlimited bandwidth and speeds, provide excellent customer support, and let you use them for streaming.

Although you technically have to pay upfront, almost every provider offers a 30-day money-back guarantee for their paid version. Here are some of the best premium VPN services available that you can try out without any risk whatsoever:

  • NordVPN
  • Surfshark
  • ExpressVPN
  • Mullvad
  • iVPN
  • Private Internet Access

The Bottom Line

Although some free VPNs can keep you safe, such as ProtonVPN, Windscribe, and TunnelBear, the rest of them often raise serious privacy concerns. They can track your information and sell it, contain malware, and even not work correctly at all.

Almost every premium service offers more features than any free VPN. Nonetheless, if you’re still considering getting a free one, you have to take care when choosing. The three mentioned here have a trustworthy free version that’s as safe as their premium ones but incredibly limited in some aspects.

They have limited server locations except for TunnelBear and significantly low data limits except for ProtonVPN. However, none of them keep connection logs, with some exceptions from Windscribe.

Keep in mind that you can access some remarkable VPNs at a small cost and enjoy a safe online experience.

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