Are Free VPNs Safe?
Over the past three years, we have conducted a series of investigations into the dangers of free VPNs. This article summarises our main findings and introduces a body of evidence demonstrating the true cost of using a free VPN.
A Virtual Private Network encrypts a user’s internet connection and diverts their traffic via a remote server in order to hide their IP address. They are primarily used to keep internet activity private, evade censorship, and use public WiFi securely.
The best VPN software usually comes with a monthly subscription cost, but a subsection of providers offer VPN applications completely for free.
Most free VPNs claim to provide all the protection of a paid VPN, without any of the cost. Unfortunately, many free VPNs put users at greater risk than using no VPN at all.
With most free VPNs, you may not pay financially, but you pay with your privacy and security.
These free VPN apps are often the first port of call for users suffering from censorship or an internet shutdown.
It’s common for such users to download the first VPN that appears in the search results, assuming that a large number of downloads or a place in the app store means that the VPN is safe to use.
This is far from guaranteed.
While it is possible to find a safe free VPN, many of the most popular free services available are in fact dangerous to use.
Based on the combined findings of our reports, we recommend consumers strongly consider premium VPN services or at the very least research safe free VPN alternatives.
Free VPN Investigations Explained
By 2018, it was becoming increasingly clear that Apple and Google were struggling to manage the increasingly popular VPN category in their app stores.
Generic free VPNs had amassed tens of millions of installs, pushing more established VPN services down in the search results.
That same year, we published the first ever free VPN ownership investigation to shine a light on who owned and operated these free VPN services.
In doing so, we revealed the companies that had access to the sensitive data of hundreds of millions of users around the world.
Since then, we’ve used our expertise and experience in reviewing VPN services to examine every aspect of these hugely popular free VPNs.
This article brings all of this extensive research together. We’ve organized the reports by theme to make it easier to understand the extent of the dangers posed by so many of these apps.
Use the page navigation to jump to each relevant section and see our key findings. We recommend bookmarking this page, as we will continue to update it as we publish new research on free VPNs.