Hello again, and welcome to Part 3 of our Big VPN Survey results. In Part 1 we considered who you were, while in Part 2 we examined the way in which you use VPN. In Part 3 we’ll see what makes you choose a particular service, and what you want from a VPN provider.
So let’s start off with a big question: how much would you be willing to pay? We are glad to see that most people think a good service is worth than 3 bucks a month, although the most popular answer (29 percent) was that you don’t want to spend more than $5. We think this is very low if privacy matters to you (going back to the point that if you don’t pay for a product you are the product), but a number of our other answers (particularly the next one) point to the fact that most of you use VPN mainly to access geo-restricted media services. In this scenario it makes perfect sense to pay a minimal amount as your core requirements are fairly minimal (just needing access to an overseas IP address).
In total, most of you (54 percent) are willing to pay more than $5, which probably not very coincidentally is the price point at which you start to find decent VPN services. We would usually consider anything over $10 per month a bit steep, but then we have yet to find the perfect VPN provider (although some come close). If we did find one, then such a premium price might be worth it.
In Part 2 we saw that most of you (67 percent) cited a general belief in privacy as a primary reason for using VPN. It is interesting then, that the most popular choice for IP locations is the USA and UK, both counties known for widespread government surveillance programs (courtesy of the NSA and GHCQ).
Combined with the fact that watching geo-restricted material was your second most popular answer to why you use VPN, and it seems fair to conclude that watching Netflix, and Hulu, and listening to Pandora (US), or watching BBC iPlayer and 4oD, and listening to Spotify (UK) are major uses of VPN.
We know that a sizeable minority of you use VPN largely for privacy when downloading using P2P, so it comes as no surprise that the Netherlands and (to a lesser extent) Romania are popular choices, as these are very P2P friendly countries.
Hong Kong as a choice almost certainly reflects the number of people who cited the Great Firewall of China as their reason for using VPN, while we assume that Japan and North Korea are popular for expatriates missing local programming (if we have missed something here that we would love to hear from you to explain why you use these locations).
Interestingly, Russia came up quite a lot in the Other/Comments section. With its rather draconian control over the internet (see here and here) we find this hard to explain, but it may have something to do with the fact that you can be (fairly) sure that the NSA won’t be watching you here.
It is not really very surprising that good customer support is important to you, and unfortunately this is an area in which some providers fail miserably.
We think it unfortunate that almost half of you don’t think that you have enough information when choosing a VPN. How much information providers supply on their websites varies wildly, and when we review them we often have to contact Support to find out important details.
Fortunately sites such as BestVPN.com exist to help fill in the holes left by providers, give an overview of the services that are available, and to provide technical explanations, legal information, and general information on up-to date security developments. If there are any articles you would like see from us, then don’t hesitate to let us know, as we really want to cover all your VPN needs.
One possible exception to this is in regard to P2P downloading, were some VPN providers are in fact quite happy for their service to be used in such a way, but don’t want to shout the fact out over the rooftops for legal reasons, and may include some confusing legalise for the same reason.
PPTP encryption is broken, but until recently we considered 128-bit L2TP/IPsec or OpenVPN encryption to be fine, with 256-bit encryption being somewhat overkill. However, with Edward Snowden’s ongoing NSA revelations, we now only recommend OpenVPN (preferable of the 256-bit variety). Although the AES cipher is considered the ’gold standard’ of VPN encryption, its NIST certification worries us, and we wish more VPN providers would look to non-NIST alternatives. For more information on encryption and our views on the subject, please see here.
That connection speed is the most popular answer (80 percent) ties in with the impression that watching geo-restricted media services is a main use for VPN. Given that in Part 2 we saw more than half of you use VPN on your smart phones, the fact that only 30 percent of you consider support for mobile devices a major factor in choosing a service is a little surprising. We are also curious as to why almost half of you consider the number of servers / countries important, as we would have thought that most people would only require servers in two or three specific counties at most.
16 percent of you use a flashed router to access VPN. For those who are not aware of the idea, using a flashed router enables you to connect all devices in a household to VPN on just one connection, and allows you to effortlessly connect devices that cannot normally be connected to VPN (such as games consoles and smart TV’s). We have articles on DD-WRT and Tomato if you would like to find out more.
One thing we didn’t ask, and maybe should have is; ‘if you do use a router, did you flash it yourself, buy one pre-flashed, or buy a pre-flashed and preconfigured one from a VPN provider?’ Answers on a postcard please!
As the survey was on our website, we shouldn’t be too surprised (or chuffed) that 78 percent of you use a website such as ours, and we do hope that you find us useful. Of course you should always check to see what a provider says about their own service, but a second (or third or fourth!) opinion can never do any harm, and all the above options should help narrow down your choice and improve your chance of picking a good provider.
One thing we missed of course, and which a number of your reminded us of in the Other/Comments section, was giving services a test run, something made easier by the fact that many providers offer free trials and / or money back guarantees. Something to watch out for with money back guarantees though, is to be sure they are ‘no quibble’ offers, as some providers will only cover cases where there is a technical problem (i.e. they don’t allow the service to be used as a free trial).
Exactly half of you have changed your DNS server. The Dynamic Name System (DNS) is used to translate the easy-to-understand and remember web addresses that we are familiar with, to their ‘true’ numerical IP addresses: for example translating the domain name www.bestvpn.com to its IP address of 220.127.116.11.
By default this translation is performed by your ISP’s DNS servers, which means that your ISP can easily keep track of the websites you visit. Even when using a VPN, DNS leakage can mean that your ISP sometimes handles these DNS requests rather than your VPN provider, which can compromise your privacy.
We therefore strongly suggest to those of you who haven’t, that you change your DNS server. Currently recommend OpenNIC, a non-profit, decentralised, open, uncensored and democratic DNS provider for this purpose.
Bitcoin is a decentralized and open source virtual currency that operates using peer-to peer technology. Most importantly for VPN, it can be anonymised. This means that while a VPN provider will always know your true IP address, if you pay using Bitcoins it will have no other personally identifiable information about you, greatly improving your anonymity. Even if you have no interest in paying for VPN using Bitcoins, we consider the fact that a provider will accept anonymous payment with them a good sign that it cares about its users’ privacy.
Only 17 percent of you pay for VPN using Bitcoins. If your reason for not doing so is that you find the whole concept intimidating, then you might like to read our detailed guide to buying, anonymizing and purchasing VPN with them.
So there we have it. Overall it seems that accessing geo-restricted media content is a major reason many of you use VPN, and understandably price, connection speed and good technical support are primary concerns. Privacy is important to you also, although throughout this survey the trend is for only a (sizable) minority of you to take concrete measures in this direction (although these people tend to take privacy very seriously).
We would again like to thank everyone who took part in the survey, and hope that you find these results enlightening.