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I know, free VPNs are tempting. After all, why would you want to pay for something you can get for free? It’s the same reason illegal Kodi boxes What Are Kodi Boxes and Is It Legal to Own One? What Are Kodi Boxes and Is It Legal to Own One? With Kodi boxes becoming increasingly popular, we set out to explain what Kodi boxes are and offer you a definitive answer on their legality. Read More and IPTV subscriptions are so popular.

But just like pirating the latest films has a downside, so too does using a free VPN. You’re going to compromise your safety, security, and possibly even your personal data. Oh, and your privacy, even if they are “virtual private networks.”

Paid VPN services — like ExpressVPN — don’t charge a lot of money per month. They are will within the budget of most people and offer a much better product.

If you’re thinking about using a free VPN 7 Completely Free VPN Services to Protect Your Privacy 7 Completely Free VPN Services to Protect Your Privacy If you're looking for a free VPN, the choices are currently limited, with many services switching to a paid model. These free virtual private networks can be used to avoid region blocking and more. Read More , hold on. You should read this article first. Here are the biggest risks with using a free VPN service.

1. Track and Sell Your Data

VPNs are supposed to keep you safe while you’re online. One of their biggest marketing points is that they will stop ISPs and other data trackers selling your data for profit.

The premise is simple. By encrypting your data and routing it through the VPN servers, your ISP can no longer see what you’re doing online. However, the VPN company can. You’ve essentially swapped one tracker for another.

Of course, most paid VPN services 4 Reasons a Paid VPN Is Better Than Free Ones 4 Reasons a Paid VPN Is Better Than Free Ones I used to be big fan of free VPNs. Why pay when free alternatives exist, right? But it turns out they're selling you short. So here's why paid VPNs always beat free VPNs. Read More don’t do this. They have extensive privacy policies and pride themselves on their complete lack of tracking.

But a free VPN? You cannot be so sure. After all, hosting and operating a VPN network with thousands of users is expensive. In many cases, you become the provider’s primary source of income. Remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Don’t believe me? A recent CSIRO study investigated 283 VPNs. It found that 75 percent of free VPN apps contained some form of tracking. It’s frightening.

Bottom line: If you mainly use a VPN for privacy (rather than geo-blocking or downloading pirated content), you shouldn’t use a free one.

2. Lack of Regulation

This point is closely linked to the previous one.

In North America and Europe, ISPs are tightly regulated. Yes, they can commandeer and sell your data, but the rules for such transactions are transparent and accessible to users.

VPNs do not operate by the same set of rules. Indeed, many VPN providers are located in shady offshore jurisdictions. Not only does their provenance make them difficult to regulate, but it also makes them difficult to learn about.

rules and regulations clipboard
Image Credit: Tashatuvango via Shutterstock

Free VPNs originating in known security weak spots, such as China and Russia, should be avoided. There is a much higher chance they are tracking your data 6 Things You Didn't Realize Your iPhone Is Tracking 6 Things You Didn't Realize Your iPhone Is Tracking Your iPhone keeps tabs on all kinds of things -- here's how to use that to your advantage. Read More and using it for unscrupulous purposes.

Free VPNs provide a huge source of potential victims for hackers and cyber-criminals. Many users see the word “free” and fall over themselves to give away personal information during the sign-up process.

Once in the system, all your traffic is logged against your account. The criminals have a complete picture of your personality within a matter of days.

3. Your IP Address Could Be a Network Endpoint

In an article like this, it’s impossible not to regale the story of Hola VPN Hola is Basically a Botnet, Congress Redirected to Nude Photos, & More... [Tech News Digest] Hola is Basically a Botnet, Congress Redirected to Nude Photos, & More... [Tech News Digest] Also: Google offers unlimited photo storage, how you can pretend to be a destructive cat, and YouTube celebrates its 10th anniversary. Read More . The app was once the king of free VPNs. Tens of thousands of people used it to circumnavigate geo-blocking restrictions in the days before services like Netflix started blocking VPN access.

But in mid-2015, the charade came crashing down. A team of experts discovered the app was turning users’ connections into endpoints. It was using your connection to increase the network’s bandwidth and offer a portal to other users. It was also selling your endpoint via a subsidiary called Luminati.

hola vpn

The process is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, your IP address is going to be on server logs. If the person using your exit node has been doing something illegal, the police are going to come knocking on your door.

Secondly, anyone accessing a site in your country via your exit node will be leaving an IP address trace with the sites they visit — thus negating the very thing you were trying to protect against in the first place.

The Hola case is well-documented, but how many other free VPN providers are doing the same thing? Are you 100 percent confident in your provider’s morals? Our advice: don’t take the risk.

4. Adverts Get Traffic Priority

Even if your free provider isn’t selling your data or turning your connection into an endpoint, the provider still has to make money. In many cases, this is done using advertising revenue.

It might not sound too unusual. After all, it’s how the majority of websites make money. Indeed, it’s how we at MakeUseOf (and every other tech publication you read) continue to provide you with free content.

But ads on free VPNs have one crucial difference: the VPN providers use third-party advertisers who are unique to your proxy server session. Because the VPNs want you to click those ads, the ad network’s traffic gets priority.

The result? Slower page-loading times and a less fluid online experience.

5. IP Address Leaks

A correctly-functioning VPN is like a secret tunnel. All your traffic flows through the tunnel away from prying eyes. When it emerges into the open web, it’s impossible to know where it originated.

However, if you use a free VPN, the craftsmanship of the tunnel is less robust — it’s more likely to be full of holes. Your data and IP address can leak through those holes, where it’s picked up by anyone who’s looking.

The process is called a “traffic leak” or “DNS leak This One Vulnerability Might Leak Your IP When Using A VPN This One Vulnerability Might Leak Your IP When Using A VPN A recently discovered vulnerability in many VPN providers means that in some cases, your IP address can be seen. This security flaw could potentially see people lose their anonymity whilst using VPNs. Here's how. Read More .” Both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses can escape, leaving you utterly exposed.

Several experts say paid VPNs are also guilty of traffic leaks, but they are less common. Just like paying more for a builder is more likely to result in a quality job, paying more for a VPN provider is more likely to result in a well-built tunnel.

Are You Using a Free VPN?

I really hope the five points I’ve covered have made you think twice about signing up for a free VPN. The risks are so high that in many cases, you’re better off not using one at all. Just send all your traffic through your ISP instead.

If I’ve convinced you to ditch your free VPN, you have two options. You can either sign-up for a leading paid service (check this detailed comparison of VPN providers The Ultimate Comparison of Nearly Every VPN on the Market The Ultimate Comparison of Nearly Every VPN on the Market VPNs are so important these days, but there are so many of them to choose from. Thankfully, this huge comparison chart will make your decision much easier to make. Read More ) or you can use the TOR network I2P vs. Tor vs. VPN: Which Is More Secure? I2P vs. Tor vs. VPN: Which Is More Secure? If you need online privacy, you'll have come across terms like "VPN" and "Tor" and perhaps even "I2P" -- but what are they and which one is best for you? Read More . The TOR network comes with its own set of concerns, but they’re far less worrisome than those arising from free VPNs.

Do you use a free VPN? If so, why? What’s making you stick with the service? Feel free to leave your input in the comments section below. And don’t forget to share this article with your friends on social media to continue the discussion.

Image Credits: boykung/Shutterstock

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  1. ReadandShare
    July 14, 2017 at 11:10 pm

    When traveling and using free WiFi, I rarely if ever use VPN. Why not?

    1. Browser - My email webpage uses HTTPS - meaning my login's and my communications are encrypted. Ditto for all other accounts that I care about.

    2. Apps - My bank apps are also encrypted.

    As for browsing CNN and MUO, for example, I don't really care if anyone is snooping.

  2. Gibier
    July 13, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    The vpn are pretty much already shit and since few weeks more country have started to block the vpn access.

  3. dragonmouth
    July 13, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    For all its articles on security, MUO doesn't offer a HTTPS connection. I wonder why?

    • ReadandShare
      July 14, 2017 at 11:13 pm

      Not a computer expert, but I reckon all the encrypting/decrypting have a cost - when multiplied by their billions. Why do sites like MUO, Nat Geo, etc., etc. need encryption?