Why are “Free VPNs” worse than no VPN at all? How are you still paying them with your data?
Every person either using VPNs or intending to use one has concerns about their security and questions which are often never taken seriously and remain unanswered.
In this article, I will share my experience with using free VPNs and answer these questions
- Whether they are worthy of your attention?
- Do they steal your data?
- Do they sell your data without consent?
Table of Contents
- What is VPN? Why does it exist?
- VPNs and the “Dark web”
- Do VPN providers sell your data?
- Free VPNs which are popular but are harvesting user data
- So is there any safe VPN at all?
Well, suppose you don't know what a VPN is. In that case, it's an abbreviation for Virtual Private Network, known for establishing a secure network connection while using a public network.
Is Internet use possible without these? Yes.
But has a VPN opened a window of opportunity to a wide range of information with simultaneous protection? Yes, it has.
VPN ensures Internet traffic encryption and Anonymous Identity. This act makes tracking your online activities and stealing your data difficult for third parties. This encryption is pulled off in real-time.
While using VPN, Internet service providers or other third parties cannot know which website you visited or what data you sent and received on the Internet. VPN acts like a filter but only a reliable one. A free VPN neither pledges nor safeguards your privacy online.
Usual purposes of VPN are
- Bypass geological blocks.
- For annoying firewalls.
- To view censored content.
- To protect their data against mass surveillance, advertisers, and hackers.
- Secure their right to freedom of speech.
Image Source - vpnoverview.com
The Dark web is a prime concern to other experts and me since almost everything is getting done through the Internet. This topic has aroused the imagination of many people, and my view is that if you use the Bit Torrent file-sharing protocol just to obtain "free" content and other transactions and use a fake VPN to access the dark web and disguise your identity, malicious actors may benefit from you, while you apparently benefit from it.
Just as easy as it is for you to disguise with fake IP address, other people can also misuse anonymity for vandalism (for example, infringement of copyright and legislation safeguarding intellectual property rights).
Doing so will bring risks of piracy, copyright infringement, and fraudulent laws. Unrestricted access will expose you to the risks of malware and viruses, as well as insufficient protection against risks in the dark InternetInternet.
Like any technology, VPN is a double-edged sword.
Shortly said, we do not recommend you use a free VPN.
The free VPN services do not provide transparent information about how they can profit from this service. In most cases, as the product is not sold to you, it is likely that you are the product.
Most free VPNs just sell your data to affiliates/partner companies or third parties who are willing to pay more.
To gain additional privileges and further deep root their access to your advice, free VPN apps ask for permissions regarding photo camera, gallery, contacts, and other functions on your device. Some vigilance at the right time will keep you safe in the long run.
Some VPNs were found handing out naive people’s information to advertising companies and routing member traffic. This information has been obtained from the CSIRO investigation and FTC's free VPN complaint.
VPNs offering free services make setting up their apps a necessity in order to acquire network configurations; hence setting up special software is inevitable for using VPN. But this process might bring along loads of malware that get downloaded as an executable file.
- risk ware
Complaint Category, % of negative reviews (N=4593)
Categorization of negative feedback for the VPN apps exceeding 1M installs on Google Play
Source - ftc.org
The advertisements that VPN sites' viewers see may be dangerous sites that expose you to all kinds of threats and hackers, and they can instantly access your information and files.
In addition to privacy threats, the experience is spoiled by allowing advertisers to enable cookies in your browser. Even large displays can overload your system and affect navigation because of injected ads, including sponsored apps, videos that are used by their advertising partners to track your internet usage, Well VPN providers use your information for various purposes, but mainly it is advertising marketing, etc.
You may encounter these VPNs while surfing that can sell your data. CSIRO research and user reviews from Google Play Market prove that these VPNs given below sell user data:
- Super VPN
- VPN Free
- Rocket VPN
- Fly Network Buster
- Cross VPN
- Archie VPN
- Hat VPN
Also, because these VPN providers reportedly distribute malware, we recommend you to avoid them yourself and tell others to do so too.
A big, fat NO! Well, I have not found one.
An unbiased opinion I will leave here is that free trials of paid VPNs are way better an option than Free VPNs if you can't afford paid VPN. Hence read our Best VPN and Free Trial VPN sections, where you'll find the lists of secure VPNs that passed all tests. It's the best option if you are fond of using VPN.
Nowadays, a truly "Free VPN service" is pretty much nonexistent. Rather it's just a free trial period offered initially (for some days) by a paid VPN service. A lot of unscrupulous providers deceptively call these FREE VPNs to attract people, but in reality, they ask for bank details and usually withdraw money when the free trial ends.
- FTC complain against VPN
The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) filed an FTC complaint against a popular VPN provider, Hotspot Shield VPN. You may look through the short complaint yourself. To summarize it for you, CDT claims that Hotspot Shield VPN employs deceptive trade practices as it slumps the privacy of its users.
In addition to this, research has revealed that Hotspot Shield VPN further redirects the traffic to partnering domains. I will tell you how.
When through a VPN, a user accesses specific commercial web domains, such as Online retailers. It is possible for the application to obstruct and redirect them to partner websites that usually are online advertising companies.
Consumers have reported instances of credit card fraud even after purchasing the premium paid version of Hotspot Shield VPN. One consumer reported "thousands of dollars" in credit card charges, as well as other suspicious online activity. It must have happened to many, but only some notice it.
I have shared the highlights of the comprehensive complaint.
CDT calls these deceptive trade practices. Although FTC doesn't take any substantial step against the VPN provider, the only benefit gained would be awareness among people that they should protect their privacy by choosing the right VPN.
Image Source – cdt.org
But some reputable VPN providers’ free trials are worth it, and don't risk your data. It is true with experience, you learn to sort things out. We managed to pick out those who serve honestly. The software and service are installed safely on a desktop, and any person with basic computer knowledge can do this task.
You may choose one of the free VPN services, either for desktop or mobile, which lasting long. They work without time limits. But again, I have made clear that they may bear risks although the performance will be better comparatively.
Free VPNs are attractive as without having to pay hundreds of dollars a year, you get apparent anonymity. However, your security and confidential information, and data are at risk. Although they can help you stream websites restricted by region, you should reconsider your options and potential threats. Free VPN is not secure. If you want to protect your digital assets, you can choose an affordable VPN solution that provides high-quality encryption to ensure your privacy and data are protected by potential hackers. In a nutshell, if you want to stay safe, a free VPN is not the best choice. It is better to spend a few dollars than lose your personal data.
Use the information and guidelines in this article for a better experience surfing online. We present exclusive research on VPNs, including Rating VPNs, Comparison between VPNs available and VPNs by country, just to help you refrain from the mistake many make and regret.
If you have any experience with VPN or any questions about VPN, then leave comments below the article.