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VPNs are all the rage these days. Experts left and right constantly sing praises, claiming that VPNs protect you from all manners of evil and that you’re essentially an idiot if you aren’t using one (in nicer words, of course). But if you’re thinking of going the free route, please reconsider.
To be fair, we’ve covered the fastest free VPN services and the best free VPNs for privacy in the past, and we recognize that these can be useful in certain circumstances. But we also believe that they come with risks — risks that may not be worth taking, even if you’re paying nothing for it.
Why You Should Be Using a VPN
For those who are uninitiated, there are three main benefits to using a VPN. If you’re already convinced of the value of a VPN, feel free to skip down to the next section. But if you don’t know much, then you should at least know why VPNs exploded in popularity over the past few years:
- Rerouting — A VPN can mask your internet connection. If you’re in Canada and connect to a VPN server located in America, websites will perceive you as an American user. This can be useful for accessing region-locked content, such as on YouTube or Netflix.
- Privacy — One side benefit to masking your connection is that the VPN server can act as a “final stop” when anyone tries to retrace your traffic. If the VPN host doesn’t log your activity, then there’s no way to trace your traffic back to you.
- Security — A properly-encrypted VPN service will encrypt your traffic before it leaves your computer and decrypt it once it arrives on the VPN server, which means it’s protected even as it travels through the router and your ISP. This is particularly useful on public Wi-Fi hotspots as hackers sometimes sniff public transmissions to intercept and steal digital identities.
These three benefits can be applied to dozens of situations. Here are some of the most common examples of when you should be using a VPN. But in this article, we’ll explain why free VPNs don’t live up to these promised benefits.
5 Reasons to Never Use a Free VPN
It’s one thing to recognize the benefits of a VPN. It’s another to place your trust in them with all your heart. There are many VPN-related myths that just aren’t true and VPNs have a handful of risks and flaws that you must be aware of, especially for VPN services offered free of charge.
1. Unreliable Service
I’ve tried a bunch of free VPNs over the years but still haven’t found one that I actually enjoy using. As with most things, free options are rarely as performant or polished as paid options, and that’s absolutely true when it comes to VPNs.
We have to remember that VPNs are a service. They require upkeep, maintenance, and constant attention in case something goes wrong. And since free services don’t make money, they usually can’t afford around-the-clock support. If there’s an outage, it could take days or weeks to fix.
2. Data, Speed, and Usage Caps
Bandwidth may be cheap now compared to years ago, but it still costs money — especially if you’re providing a free service that’s in high demand. Not only do you need enough bandwidth to serve thousands of simultaneous connections, you need servers that can handle the processing load.
Which is why most free VPNs have limits. One might give you a set amount of data for the month. Another might restrict the speed of your connection. And another might have a login queue that limits the number of users on the VPN, meaning you have to wait for a slot to free up before you can log on and start using it yourself. These are all inconvenient, to say the least.
3. Restricted Regional Options
As discussed above, one of the big reasons to use a VPN is to reroute your traffic through another country so you can access region-blocked content. Or maybe there’s a routing issue and you want to bypass it by hopping through a different VPN server. Either way, server locations are important.
But each additional server location costs more money, and as we’ve established, free VPN services don’t have much of a budget. Most will likely offer at least one American server and one European server, but beyond that, it’s a crapshoot — and they may have login queues!
4. No Privacy Guarantee
This is the main dealbreaker for most people. Think about how a VPN works: your traffic is routed through the VPN’s servers. You have to trust that your VPN host is doing right by your data, that they aren’t intercepting, peeking, logging, or even altering your packets.
How much trust can you put in a free service? You aren’t paying them a dime, so it’d be naive to think they have your best interests at heart. Any free VPN that promises privacy and security cannot be trusted — even if they offer encryption! Truth is, your activity is probably being sold to marketers.
5. Malicious Intent
Let’s say you find a free VPN service that doesn’t suffer from any of the above. It’s reliable, it’s fast, it’s unlimited, it’s available in dozens of countries, and it can somehow guarantee logless privacy. At this point, you have to ask yourself: why are they offering this free of charge?
If you can’t come up with a good answer, then you’re probably the one being exploited. For example, back in 2015, Hola VPN was caught selling the bandwidth of its users, allowing their computers to by third parties for botnet purposes, all without the users themselves knowing.
Free services are rarely offered out of true altruism, most of all VPNs. Don’t fall for it.
Paid VPNs Are the Way to Go
Let’s be clear about one thing: a paid VPN can be just as bad as a free VPN. Just because you pay money doesn’t mean the service will be good, that they’ll delete your activity logs, or that they’ll keep your best interests at heart.
But they are more likely to do so. They want to keep your business, after all, and the best way to do that is to maintain a great reputation and deliver on their promises. If you cherish privacy above all else, we recommend these paid logless VPNs. Otherwise, check out our compilation of the best VPN services we’ve found, which includes such big bitters as ExpressVPN.
How do you feel about free VPNs? Are you now convinced that paid VPNs worth the money? Or do you think all VPNs are rubbish regardless? Let us know in a comment down below!
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