Looking for a way to boost your online safety? If you’re considering getting a free VPN service or have questions about them, you have come to the right place.
Are free VPNs safe to use?
No. Why? Because VPN (Virtual Private Network) services need resources to maintain the infrastructure. You pay for the product with some VPNs, while others sell your sensitive info to keep their business going. This puts your cybersecurity at risk, doing the opposite of what they promised.
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Why should you avoid free VPNs?
Because free VPNs gather money by selling your data to data brokers or showering you with tons of ads. On top of that, free VPNs usually don’t have enough money to maintain a decent infrastructure. That makes free VPNs easier to hack.
Using a free VPN to protect your online privacy is like using that free plastic grocery bag as a parachute — it could work in theory, but the reality is much different.
Just as a flimsy grocery bag would fail you in a freefall, a free VPN is often insufficient when protecting your online activity.
Like any other service or product, if you want reliable and effective protection, you have to invest in something thoroughly tested and proven trustworthy.
With its weak infrastructure, free services expose you to many risks.
6 Risks of using free VPN services
When it comes to specific free VPN services, you have to thoroughly research them to ensure the VPN is safe to use. Trusting free VPN providers without knowing much about them is like giving a stranger the keys to your house and trusting them not to steal anything.
Just as you would be cautious about who you give access to your home, you should be careful about who you trust with your online activity.
Lucky for you, I already did a little research, so here are some risks that you should think about before using a free VPN:
Getting infected with malware
Sadly, this is not an exaggerated claim. A report published by the University of New South Wales and the University of Berkeley checked 283 free Android VPN-based apps and found that 38% contained malware or malvertising.
Ironic, isn’t it? You’re looking for a VPN to shield and protect you online, but all you get is exposure to malware.
Data collection & exposure to third parties
Since you’re not paying for a VPN subscription with real money, free VPNs have other ways to benefit from you. One of them is collecting and selling your data.
Some free VPNs may collect data such as browsing history, search queries, IP address, and location, then sell that data to advertisers or other third parties. Now think about what can happen if you use a free VPN for online banking.
The same research on free Android VPN apps found that about 80% of free VPN apps ask for access to your sensitive data, and even 84% willingly or accidentally leak that data to third parties.
Getting showered with ads
Allowing tons of ads is another way free VPNs can make money without charging you.
This seems harmless, but that’s not the case. Some free VPNs use ad-serving trackers that track your online activity and browsing habits to display targeted ads. That’s a massive privacy violation and quite the opposite of what a trustworthy VPN should do.
Getting your browser hijacked
Talking about browsing patterns, after learning them, free VPNs can hijack your browser to redirect you to random sites without your permission.
Some free VPN browser extensions can insert malicious code into your browser. With it successfully running in the background, you’ll automatically redirect to shady websites without permission
Slowed down the internet connection
If you’re using free services that bombard you with ads, collect your info, or have some shady stuff running in the background, your internet connection will slow down. These things use your data or Wi-Fi, so your searches load slower.
Also, free VPNs usually don’t have funds to spend on advanced infrastructure like premium VPNs do. With fewer servers, they can’t handle many clients. When servers get overloaded, your speed slows down.
Lastly, free VPNs can intentionally slow down your internet connection and offer a premium paid plan to boost the speeds.
Struggling to unblock content
Some people use free VPNs for illegal purposes. Because of this, their VPN servers get blocklisted by websites.
Since free VPNs don’t have many servers to choose from, you’ll likely end up with a blocked one. When connected to the servers other people abuse, you won’t be able to access your favorite entertainment.
Connecting to the servers used to do bad stuff is neither safe nor pleasant. It is a huge security risk, and you can’t even access the things you want.
Are free VPNs worse than no VPN?
Most of the time, no VPN is better than a free VPN. In terms of security, free VPN providers can collect and sell data about you. That’s even worse than browsing without a VPN.
When it comes to exposure to malware, using a free VPN is riskier than having no VPN at all. That’s because some free VPNs may contain malware or adware, infecting your device and compromising your security.
Of course, it’s important to note that not all free VPN providers sell your data or expose you to malware. It’s essential to do your research and choose a VPN provider you trust. However, I believe free VPNs can’t beat a premium service.
Free VPN vs. premium VPN
So, we know free VPN providers expose you to privacy threats & malware, but that’s not all. Here are some more fundamental differences between free and paid VPN services:
Most free VPNs limit the amount of data that users can use each month. This can be as low as 500 MB or less.
Almost all premium VPN providers have an unlimited data usage policy & never track or restrict your VPN usage.
Free VPNs often have slower speeds and may experience frequent connection drops or buffering issues due to cheaper infrastructure.
Paid VPNs generally offer faster and more reliable speeds, as they typically have more servers and less crowded networks.
Protocols & encryption
Free VPNs have weaker security features and may not use the strongest encryption or the safest VPN protocols. They are generally easier to hack.
Paid VPNs offer more robust security features than any other VPN. This includes stronger encryption protocols and additional security measures.
Free VPNs are usually all about changing your IP address. They don't have additional features like an ad block or kill switch.
Paid VPNs invest in premium features that give you a clean, leak-proof VPN connection.
Free VPNs may have limited server options, making it more difficult to access entertainment safely.
Paid VPNs offer a wider range of server locations, allowing users to explore connections worldwide.
Due to limited resources, free VPN service providers usually offer limited support options or none at all.
Paid VPNs usually offer 24/7 live customer support via chats, emails, or phone.
Free VPNs might be based in countries with weak privacy protections and can collect & sell logs.
Paid VPNs are usually based in countries with strong privacy laws and offer no-logs policies that are tested & verified.
While free VPNs don't require you to pay with your money, they still have to make a profit somehow, usually by collecting & selling your data.
Paid VPNs require a subscription fee. The prices differ from one VPN provider to another, so you have quite a few options.
It’s worth paying for a reputable VPN service offering unlimited data, faster speeds, and better security.
Especially if you’re concerned about the risks associated with free VPNs, it might be worth considering a VPN free trial to experience the difference in security and performance.
How to choose a safe and reliable VPN service?
You should find all the information a VPN provider will collect about you and where it goes. For maximum privacy, go for a VPN with a no-logs policy to ensure that everything you do while connected to a VPN stays with you.
After knowing the claims, check if the VPN provider has any audits that can prove their privacy claims. If the answer is yes, congrats, you found a safe and reliable VPN service.
Final note: free VPNs do more harm than good, so opt for a premium VPN
While using a free VPN may seem like a cost-effective solution, it can actually expose you to a higher risk of malware. If you want to protect your device and data from potential attacks, use a paid VPN, like Surfshark, with the resources, expertise, and robust security measures.
Is it risky to use a free VPN?
Yes. When it comes to VPNs, free services aren’t safe. They have little money to spend on good infrastructure or additional safety features. Even worse, free VPNs can compromise your digital security by collecting & selling your data or showering you with ads.
Do all free VPNs sell your data?
No. Not all free VPNs sell your data, but it’s important to note that they typically rely on other revenue options, such as ads or data-selling, since they don’t charge a subscription fee. Reviewing the privacy policies before trusting VPNs with your data is essential.