Free VPNs are too good to be true. You can download a variety of free VPN apps from Google Play or the App Store, but it’s not secure at all. In this article, I explain how VPNs work, why you should use them, and how to know which ones are worth downloading.
How a VPN works
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, encrypts all traffic sent over your Internet connection and sends it to a remote VPN server. Everything goes through the VPN server.ADVERTISING
For example, you are in Brazil and connect to a VPN server located in the United Kingdom. Then you go to sites like Google and Facebook. Your web browsing traffic is sent over the internet through an encrypted connection to the VPN server.
So your local network operator or Internet Service Provider cannot see that you are connecting to Google or Facebook. They only see an encrypted connection going to a UK IP address. Google and Facebook only recognize it as an access originating in the United Kingdom.
Why You Should Use a VPN
People use VPN servers for a variety of reasons. They keep your browsing activity private from your internet service provider, for example. If the local government censors the internet, a VPN would allow you to bypass the censorship and browse as if you were in any other country where the VPN server is located. VPNs would also allow you to use public Wi-Fi hotspots without the threat of eavesdropping.
For legal reasons, many people use VPNs to hide their BitTorrent traffic, making their torrent activity appear to be taking place in another country.
A VPN can also allow you to access geographically restricted services. For example, if you are in Brazil and use a VPN service that points to the UK, you could access the BBC. Another example: it is possible to access US Netflix from Brazil if you use a VPN that directs your computer as if you were there. It masks your computer’s address.
Your data stays in the hands of VPNs
So a VPN prevents your ISP or someone using your Wi-Fi network from snooping on your browsing. However, this does not mean that the VPN server operator is not spied on.
When the data leaves the VPN, the VPN server operator can see the websites you are accessing. If you are accessing unencrypted HTTP websites, the VPN operator will be able to see all the content on the pages. The operator can keep logs of this data or sell it for advertising purposes.
In short: When you use a VPN, you are preventing someone from spying on your traffic. But you are allowing the VPN provider to see what you are doing. So why would you trust a free VPN provider you’ve never heard of? The tip is never to use free virtual private network apps or web services.
A recent investigation by Metric Labs drew attention to this issue, finding that most free VPN apps link to China and 86% of them had poor privacy policies. Some have explicitly stated that they transfer user data to China. Most of them had customer support emails pointing to generic personal email accounts on services like Gmail or Hotmail.
If you’re using a VPN to browse privately or want to escape Internet censorship, you probably won’t want to use a China-based VPN.
The truth is, it is not good to use an unknown VPN that is hosted in a country with a repressive government, as is the case in China, as the VPN company may just be capturing and selling your data.
Which service should you use?
Stay away from free VPNs. It costs money for companies to host a VPN server and pay for traffic, so why would this company give you a free service without getting a return?
As a free VPN for occasional use, Tunnelbear is recommended. It has a free plan of 500MB of data per month and offers monthly or annual paid plans. Therefore, it is reliable because it is paid, but it offers 500MB per month as a free trial. I recommend this VPN for use in emergency cases.
If you’re going to use a VPN for privacy, torrenting, bypassing censorship, or bypassing geo-restrictions to access online services, I recommend doing some research and paying for a service that you believe is reliable. For that, our team has already prepared a list of safe VPN service tips.
If you want privacy and anonymity, you should check out Tor. Tor is a free browser, but it’s nowhere near as fast as a VPN. It’s not something you’d want to use for a long time to browse the Internet.
If you’re a power user, consider setting up your own VPN. Pay for hosting on a server or cloud service, install a VPN server, and connect to it. You are now your own VPN operator – although the hosting service can spy on you. Unfortunately, there is no way to escape it.