Testing a VPN Chrome extension is a very different process to testing a regular VPN.
Plenty of big-name VPNs don’t even have an extension, so going by reputation alone isn’t enough.
Here are the most important factors we look out for when testing Chrome VPN extensions:
For Chrome VPN extensions specifically, we check for:
- The type of encryption used, if any, or if the add-on is simply a proxy.
- Does the extension work with Netflix, with extra importance given to US Netflix.
- How many server locations are there?
- Are there any additional security features? HTML5 geospoofing, tracker blocking, WebRTC leak blocking, and other such features are all highly desirable.
Here is how we weight each of those factors when compiling our ratings for Chrome VPNs, as well as everything we look for while testing:
1. VPN Encryption: 50%
Minimum Requirement: An extension which encrypts your browser traffic.
We Recommend: Encryption via a robust, provable standard, back by a strong logging policy.
This is the most important factor of all, which is why it makes up such a large percentage of the overall rating.
The Chrome Web Store is full of extensions marketing themselves as ‘VPNs’, ‘proxies’, ‘unblockers’, ‘spoofers’, and everything in between.
What’s worse, many products make it deliberately unclear whether or not they actually encrypt your browser traffic. Even some extensions from reputable VPN services are guilty of this.
We make sure to look through all the fine print and technical details to verify every Chrome VPN we recommend really is a VPN.
We value disclosure of the type of encryption and the VPN protocol used (like OpenVPN), and how web data is handled.
Some VPNs have different privacy policies to their app counterparts. It’s a big plus if a Chrome VPN has a logging policy as privacy-friendly as the main software product.
2. Accessing Streaming Services: 25%
Minimum Requirement: Works to access US Netflix.
We Recommend: Works to access regional streaming services on as many servers as possible.
Any good desktop VPN will encrypt your browser traffic. A Chrome VPN extension can be a quick alternative to that, but the real reason why they’re so popular is streaming.
With just a couple of clicks within your browser, you can instantly change your virtual location and stream previously blocked or inaccessible content.
Our tests found all five of the Chrome VPNs featured are able to access Netflix US. Due to its enormous popularity, we consider this to be the most important streaming library of all.
If an extension offers locations outside of the US, we then test to see if it can access Netflix within those regions, too. Region-specific services like BBC iPlayer are also valued.
3. Security Features: 15%
Minimum Requirement: WebRTC blocking.
We Recommend: WebRTC blocking, plus additional tools like geolocation blocking.
Even if you just want to use a VPN to watch Netflix through Chrome, we believe that a WebRTC blocker is essential.
WebRTC poses a potential security risk whenever you use voice or video chat in your browser. We only recommend Chrome VPNs which provide peace of mind in the form of a WebRTC blocker.
After the above features, any additional ones are a bonus.
HTML5 geoblocking is rare, but exceptionally valuable. It prevents location leaks, where your browser gives away your real physical location even if your IP address has changed.
In our tests, only three out of 15 Chrome VPN extensions offered HTML5 geoblocking.
Ad blockers and tracker blockers are also welcome extras to keep your Chrome browsing anonymous.
4. Number of Server Locations: 10%
Minimum Requirement: Five, including one in your real country of residence.
We Recommend: As wide a selection as possible.
What constitutes an acceptable number of VPN locations depends on what you need a VPN for. For this reason, we give this area the smallest weighting.
If all you care about is spoofing your IP to remain anonymous, then you’ll only need a server in the country where you live. This keeps internet speed loss to a minimum.
If you want to use your extension for when you travel, or to unblock web content from abroad, then the ideal number of countries changes.
The more server locations your VPN extension offers, the greater your selection of web content you can potentially access.
Extensions like ExpressVPN and NordVPN give you access to their entire server list i.e. hundreds of different locations around the world.
Additional research by Luke Williams