When it comes to choosing a free Virtual Private Network (VPN) service, there are certain things to bear in mind. Not every free VPN service was created equally. You need to keep your wits about you to avoid ending up with a substandard service.
A VPN is the best digital privacy tool on the market
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A VPN is the best digital privacy tool on the market
What to Look for in a Free VPN
The most important thing to consider when selecting a free VPN service is whether it actually does what a VPN is meant to do! Read on for more on what a VPN is supposed to do.
Geo-spoofing (Pretending to Be in a Different Location)
A VPN allows you to conceal your real location. The VPN conceals your real IP address in order to do this. Concealing your real IP address (location) also has other benefits…
When you connect to a VPN server, the VPN replaces your IP address with its own. This makes you appear to be in the location of whichever VPN server you select from a list.
Pretending to be in a different country lets you overcome local censorship, whether imposed by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the government, or local network administrators (such as workplaces, schools, and landlords). It also allows you to access geo-restricted content that is usually only available to people living in a particular country or region.
Privacy and Security
A decent VPN encrypts the data coming and going from your device. That encryption scrambles your data so that nobody can see what you’re doing online. This stops ISPs – and therefore governments – from tracking your web habits.
This works brilliantly alongside the ability to unblock content. It allows you to privately access foreign services that you aren’t supposed to be using. Privacy also allows you to download films and software, or stream pirated content – without anybody knowing that you did it.
Sadly, when it comes to providing privacy, most free VPNs get a big black mark next to their name.
This is for two reasons:
- The VPN provides badly implemented or outdated encryption, which isn’t secure enough to keep your data secure.
These practices are both enormously risky. Cybersecurity and digital privacy experts agree that this is the opposite of what a VPN should do.
Five Ways to Spot a Trustworthy Free VPN
Now that you know what a VPN is supposed to do, you can see why you should avoid the majority of free VPNs. The following questions allow you to discern whether a free VPN is trustworthy.
How Does the VPN Make Money?
Running a VPN service is technical, time-consuming, and expensive. This makes it impossible for VPNs to run the service completely free.
VPN companies that also have a paid service offer reliable and trusted free VPN services as loss-leaders. The free version is there to hook people in and to give them a taster of the full version. As such, the free version of the VPN is restricted in one (or more) ways.
These restrictions are usually: bandwidth, download, and/or server location limits. However, other features may also be missing from the free version (such as permission to BitTorrent, firewall, ad blocker, and so forth).
If the free VPN that interests you doesn’t have an obvious revenue stream, then it is very likely that it’s making money by selling your data. Those buying it tend to be advertisers. However, these dodgy VPN services have privacy policies that allow them to sell your data to anyone who is willing to pay.
What Is the Software Doing?
Trusted VPNs have software that is the same on the free version as the paid version. This means that the VPN provides the same levels of privacy and security.
Unfortunately, most free VPNs have software with built-in spyware. This collects as much data about you as possible to sell to third parties. This means that the VPN is not only retaining your entire web history (the very thing it is supposed to be concealing), but is also going out of its way to collect and process your data.
A good way to spot if that is happening is by looking to see if the VPN serves you adverts. If the free VPN does serve you adverts, that’s a bad sign. If it serves you adverts about products or services that you like or that you have recently searched for, then this is a sure sign that the VPN isn’t protecting your privacy.
Which Logs Does the VPN Admit to Keeping?
Minor logs such as connection time, and amount of bandwidth used, are nothing to worry about. However, if the VPN admits to keeping IP address logs and usage logs, avoid it at all costs.
Is It Possible to Sign up Without Handing over Personal Data?
If a free VPN allows you to join up without handing over your phone number, credit card details, name, address, and other identifying data, then it is permitting you to join anonymously. Unfortunately, most VPNs will ask you for an email address – but you don’t have to use your main account if you don’t want to.
Admittedly, the VPN company might be storing your IP address on file, which can be used to figure out who you are. That’s why it’s important to understand what the VPN is keeping on file about you.
Finally, some VPNs also allow you to pay with Bitcoins (if you do decide to get the paid version). This is great for privacy because it allows you to subscribe without handing over your Paypal or credit card details (which can both be tied to you).
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