Should You Use a Free VPN?
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are becoming more popular than ever in 2023. If you don’t want to pay for privacy, are free VPN services worth using?
At the moment, any protection is better than no protection, but as always, there is more to it than that.
Free VPN services are popping up all the time, but there are a few things you need to be aware of before signing up and using one.
- If the product is free, you are the product.
- Not all VPN services are created equal.
- Much depends on how much you use a VPN.
- Due diligence is vital if you use a free product
Should you use a free VPN? Before making a decision, please take note of the following points.
If the Product is Free, You Are the Product
VPN infrastructures cost a lot of money to set up and run. A VPN app needs to be created, VPN servers need to be built, maintained, and operated. Data links into and out of the VPN data center need to be paid for, and the entire operation needs to be managed and run. All that costs money. A lot of money.
If you’re not paying for that service, who is?
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With many free VPN services, you are paying, just not in cash. Browsing data is sold to third parties, ads are served, and many of your actions will be tracked by cookies wanting to market and advertise at you. Now not all free VPN services will do this, but the money has to come from somewhere.
Not All Free VPN Services Are Created Equal
As mentioned, a VPN takes a lot of money to create and run, and not all outfits have the kind of budget necessary to run a top-tier service. There are several compromises necessary in a lower rent VPN service. You have to use outdated or weak encryption like PPTP or WPA. Sometimes you cannot access HTTPS websites, and some have data limits or run very slow at peak times.
Why would a VPN operator not let you use HTTPS? Because it’s encrypted, and they cannot sell the data to make their money back.
Some leading free VPN services are operated by legitimate companies, some of which also offer premium VPNs. Often these come with other compromises such as data limits, the inability to choose your own destination or use outdated or leaky protocols. Some free VPN services don’t even offer the option for OpenVPN, which is the only truly secure protocol right now.
You really do have to shop carefully if you want to use a free VPN.
Much Depends on How Much You Use a VPN
If you want a VPN to circumvent geoblocking or to run a bit torrent client, a free VPN service is not for you. Most will have data limits or speed limits, neither of which is conducive to streaming or torrents.
The other downside is that you will be limited to the IP destinations you can select. This can compromise your attempt to circumvent geoblocking as the destination may not have access to the content you’re looking for.
Due Diligence is Vital if You Use a Free Product
So far, I have painted quite a disparaging picture of free VPN services, and rightly so. They are an inferior answer to an important question. Yet, if you shop carefully and only require the VPN for occasional web surfing, they can have a place on your computer.
However, some of the lesser-known VPN programs have been found to contain nasty surprises in the form of spyware.
So What Free VPN Service Should I Use?
Unfortunately, a free VPN service could wind up costing you more than a subscription to a more reputable service. However, there are some options that are free and fairly safe.
A few free VPNs with decent reviews are TunnelBear, Windscribe, and PrivateTunnel. While each has limitations compared to premium VPNs, none had any detectable spyware, connections were relatively fast, and each was easy to use. There are a lot of other free VPN services out there though, so your mileage may vary. Again, BE CAREFUL.
Do keep in mind that some VPNs offer a free trial. If you’re new to the world of VPNs, it’s worth trying a paid service for at least the free trial duration. In the next section, we’ll cover how to use a VPN with a free trial. You can try the service for 30 days risk-free, and if you decide to keep it, you’ll get a reputable VPN for a low price. If you don’t like it, just ask for your money back (we tried, it works).
How to Use a VPN
Setting up a VPN is simple on most devices for an average technology user. If you know how to install a piece of software or an app, then you can set up a VPN.
Here’s how to use the VPN on your devices:
How to Use a VPN on a PC
- Sign up for an ExpressVPN risk-free trial.
- Download either the Windows or Mac version of ExpressVPN. Sign in and click on ‘Setup.’
- Click on the Windows option. Then, copy the activation code to your PCs clipboard.
- Paste the activation link into the ExpressVPN app.
- Now, you can use the app to turn on/off your VPN service as well as change server locations.
How to Use a VPN on an iPhone and Android Phone
The steps are pretty much the same regardless of your smartphone’s OS. Here’s how to use ExpressVPN on your phone:
- Sign up for a VPN like ExpressVPN
- Download the ExpressVPN app from the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store. Sign in, or get the activation code from the ExpressVPN website just as we did above.
- Tap the power icon to connect the VPN. You can also tap the ‘Current Location’ box to select a new location.
We like this option because you can test a paid VPN. If you don’t like it, you can get your money back in the first 30 days. Then you can do your own apples-to-apples testing to see how much more comprehensive and secure a paid VPN is in comparison.
If you’re looking for instructions past just your PC or mobile device, then you also might want to check out how to set up a VPN on a Firestick. If you’re game for instructions that might be a little more complex, then check out our guides on setting up a VPN on an Xbox or Playstation 4.