The VPN (Virtual Private Network) market is filled with services of varying quality. Additionally, some require a subscription, while others claim to keep you secure without asking for anything in return.
It should come as no surprise that nothing in this day and age is free, and VPNs are no exception. This means using a costless VPN has clear downsides or hidden risks to your security and privacy. In this article, we’ll outline the main reasons for avoiding free VPNs and opting for premium services instead.
What is a VPN?
Before we begin, it’s essential to understand the basic principles of VPN technology.
The software redirects your entire online traffic through one of the service’s servers across the globe. Doing so hides your IP address and makes it appear you’re located in another country. Additionally, all your activities are encrypted, making them unreadable to your ISP and other potential snoopers. However, adding an extra server between you and the internet inevitably reduces upload and download speeds.
Thankfully, the best VPN services complete this process with minimal speed loss. Plus, they grant numerous other benefits, such as ad-blocking, access to foreign content, and complete anonymity. Unsurprisingly, expert software developers create and maintain these perks, hence the need for a subscription.
So how could a free VPN do all that and not need a single dime from you? The answer depends on what kind of no-cost virtual private network you use.
The difference between free and freemium VPNsCostless VPNs can be split into two categories:
1. Completely free
The first category is the most dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. These services make bold claims about their effectiveness and supposedly don’t cost anything. However, a truly high-quality VPN service is only possible with a backbone of well-paid cybersecurity specialists.
On the other hand, freemium VPNs are free versions of well-established paid providers. These plans are stripped-down alternatives to paid subscriptions. Naturally, they include fewer features and have other limitations to make the premium plan more appealing.
Free VPN RisksLet’s look at the potential dangers of using completely free VPN services.
Data logging. Rerouting your entire web traffic through someone else’s servers is dangerous if you’re unsure how your data is handled. For example, free VPNs are notorious for storing your browsing history and selling that information to advertisers.
Malicious ads. Free online services are well-known for using ads to earn revenue. However, these advertis
ements are not only annoying, but filled with viruses and their own tracking software. This means having these ads displayed on your device is a security and privacy risk.
Malware. Some of the most heinous free VPNs are just viruses in disguise. They provide sub-par performance while using your device to mine cryptocurrencies in the background. There are also instances of no-cost VPNs taking advantage of user bandwidth and using them as proxies.
Overall, the potential risks definitely outweigh the benefits you’ll get from an entirely free VPN.
Freemium VPN downsidesAlthough freemium VPNs don’t have the same risks as free ones, they impose other limitations to maximize output for paying customers.
Here’s a glance at some of these restrictions.
-Monthly or daily data caps. Security-focused freemium VPNs include monthly or daily data caps to prevent overuse. It depends on the provider and varies between 500 MB to 10 GB.
-Throttled connection speeds. Maximizing throughput for paying users means slowing down freeloaders, usually quite significantly. Don’t expect UHD video content with freemium VPNs.
-Minimal server options. Further cost-cutting includes limiting your server selection options. Once again, it will depend on your provider and can be in the ballpark of 1 to 5 countries.
-Inability to unblock geo-restricted content. Many users buy VPNs to access exclusive
.TV shows and movies on platforms like Netflix.
-Unsurprisingly, freemium VPNs provide this feature only on the premium plan.
-Fewer security features. The most effective security tools are reserved for paying customers. Meanwhile, free users get the bare minimum and likely have some gaps on the cybersecurity front.
If you find these restrictions acceptable, we have a list of reliable providers you should consider.
Best freemium VPNsThese are the top 3 trustworthy freemium VPNs you can try out if your budget is zero. Plus, the paid plans are pretty affordable if you wish to upgrade.
1. Proton VPN. Arguably the best security-focused freemium VPN. It’s based in Switzerland, provides good connectivity with VPN Accelerator, and lacks data caps.
2. Atlas VPN. A solid choice for security and privacy if you can stomach the 5 GB/month data limit. Plus, it has one of the lowest premium subscription prices and loads of benefits.
3. Hide Me VPN. A good alternative if you need more data (10 GB per month) and five server locations. Moreover, premium plans are affordable and feature-rich.
ConclusionA virtual private network grants plenty of benefits regarding privacy, security, entertainment, and anonymity. However, this is only guaranteed if you invest in a reliable premium VPN. On the other hand, free VPNs are either lackluster or a complete scam and security risk.
Use only reliable free VPNs with obvious revenue streams, or sign up for fully-featured premium options.