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People use VPN services to safeguard their privacy and identity especially when using public wifi. So, if someone told you that the company that you are entrusting with your online activities is the one that’s stealing your data for profit, then that’s bound to come as a shocker. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the case with a numerous VPN service providers today.
Free VPN Services are Sharing Your Data, It’s Not a Myth
If you are a smart web user and check online reviews of popular security products including VPNs before you use them yourself, then it’s likely that you are safe from the unethical actions of several free VPNs. However, not everyone is that lucky.
For a long time, people were kept in the dark about the hidden operations of free VPN services. However, when a leading VPN provider conducted an investigation, it led to many shocking discoveries. It found that out of the 117 popular VPNs it examined, 26 were secretly recording their users’ data even though they painted a different picture on their websites.
However, the VPN authority website didn’t stop the investigation there and delved even deeper using the power vested in it by the new GDPR compliance laws that enforce greater transparency between the consumers and the companies. As a result, it found that many VPNs, especially the ones that are completely free are actually selling the data collected to third parties.
Popular Free VPN Services to Avoid
It’s not easy to tell if a particular VPN service is selling or sharing your data with others as it can try to keep this information to itself even if it’s disallowed by the law. However, below are some of the popular services that have actually admitted to these acts which is why it’s in your best interest to avoid them at all costs:
Betternet is one of the leading free VPN service providers that claims to have as many as 38 million users across the globe although it’s a new player in the industry. It says that it makes a profit by offering free sponsored apps and advertisements. However, it’s privacy-policy page says that its advertisers are allowed to collect certain information from you including your device’s IMEI, Mac address, and wireless carrier.
HotSpot is one of the oldest VPN software that offers its services for free. Although you can invest in a premium plan that allows you to connect up to 5 devices with a single account, enjoy ad-free browsing, and use up to 24 virtual locations. That said, it’s admitted that it can make money by:
- Sharing your data with third parties
- Displaying advertisements on the websites you visit
- Redirecting you to its affiliate partners
If you use Opera web browser, then you may already know that it has a VPN tool in the browser itself which you can use for free. In fact, the very reason why they embedded the service in the browser was to attract more web users who usually use either Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.
By using Opera VPN, you give consent to the company to share your data with its marketing partners and third parties. In addition to that, you also allow them to track your data.
People love Hola because it offers unlimited data and a completely ad-free browsing experience which are some of the features that are rarely found in free VPN services. However, security researchers have found that the service is indeed “too good to be true” because it comes with various risks. For starters, it’s found that Hola can be easily exploited and allow a hacker to run unauthorized programs on your computer to commit data theft, fraud, etc. even if you are using some of the best antivirus and security apps for phone or PC. What’s worse, the privacy section of their website says that the company can:
- Share your email with its marketing partners
- Share your anonymous information with third parties
- Sell access to your computer and network so other users can access the Internet through your computer
Although Hola offers advantages that can’t be matched by other free VPN services, the vulnerabilities and dangers certainly outweigh the benefits.
What’s the Solution?
If you want a safe and secure browsing experience, then it’s recommended that you get a premium i.e. paid VPN service because let’s face it, if a company offers watertight security, high bandwidth, and access to multiple remote servers, then it surely has to charge an upfront fee to run business and make a profit. However, if you can’t afford a paid service, then you are left with only two options:
Using Open Source VPN
An open source VPN doesn’t have any financial goals or incentives. Thus, it’s least likely to cause you harm. Besides, the codes of these programs are public so that other programmers and general users can review them for assurance.
Some good open source VPN programs include SoftEther, OpenConnect, OpenVPN, and SocialVPN.
Creating Your Own VPN
If you want guaranteed security and privacy, then you can set up your own free VPN in the cloud. Doing this allows you to have full control over your online activities and generated data.
There are many guides on the Internet that can help you set up your own free VPN using Streisand or Algo. However, bear in mind that this requires a certain level of tech-savviness and you must have some experience with software programming.
In the end, the most important thing to remember is that you use VPN to protect your privacy and you don’t want the guardian to become the attacker. So, you must always conduct a thorough background check of a VPN service before you use it, especially if you haven’t heard of it before.