Betternet logs too much data
Logging & Jurisdiction
Betternet logs a huge amount of information including your true IP address, your location, connection timestamps and device information. It even logs (anonymized) usage information. This goes well beyond what is resonable and puts your privacy in jeopardy.
Betternet logs quite a lot of information about its users:
- Originating IP address – encrypted and monitored only for the duration of the VPN session, then deleted.
- Your approximate geographical location and ISP – derived from your IP address and shared with third-party advertisers.
- VPN connection timestamps – to monitor, support and optimize VPN services, and stored for three years.
- Bandwidth consumed per user, per session – to monitor, support, and optimize VPN services, and stored for three years.
- Device-specific information – device ID, OS version, and hardware model. These are not linked to VPN browsing activity but allow Betternet to distinguish between different users as registration is not necessary.
- Non-personal logs of domain names (not full URLs) that users visit – but not in combination with anything that identifies an individual. These are aggregated on a monthly basis.
Aura, the company behind Betternet, claims that despite the logs it can’t link any browsing activity to individual VPN users.
Aura’s logging policy also states that while the free products are supported by ads, they are not personalized based on the user’s VPN browsing activity.
“Even if a government agency physically seizes one of our VPN servers and succeeds in breaking disk encryption on those servers, they would not find any logs or information that would reveal what any individual user was browsing, viewing, or doing online via a VPN connection.”
Betternet’s logging policy is not the worst we’ve seen from a free VPN service, but there are far more private free VPNs options available.
Ownership and jurisdiction
Betternet is operated by Betternet LLC Inc., a part of the Aura group, which also owns a host of other VPN services, including:
- Hotspot Shield
- VPN In Touch
- VPN 360
Betternet LLC Inc. is incorporated in California, USA, which is part of the Five-Eyes international intelligence-sharing alliance. It’s also subject to intrusive surveillance laws.
All of Aura’s VPN products share the same privacy and logging policy, but the group hasn’t had the smoothest run during the past few years.
For example, Hotspot Shield was embroiled in various past controversies. One of them involved the VPN injecting advertising cookies in users’ web browsers. You can read more about this in our Hotspot Shield review.
One saving grace is that Betternet Free doesn’t require you to make an account before using it. This means you don’t have to hand them personal information like a phone number or email address.
Betternet hasn’t escaped all controversy though.
A 2016 academic report on VPNs revealed that Betternet’s Android app was riddled with malware and embedded tracking libraries. Betternet never publicly addressed this.
Betternet lacks advanced security features
Security & Features
While they use industry standard AES-256 encryption, Betternet's apps lack a kill switch or other vital security features. They also sometimes leaks DNS information.
Our tests detected no IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks when the “Prevent IP Leaks” setting was toggled on, but switching it off caused Betternet to expose DNS requests to our ISP.
The ‘Prevent IP leaks’ feature is switched on by default, but considering the main point of a VPN is to protect your privacy and prevent personal data from being exposed – we don’t see why this option is present at all.
The Chrome extension is even worse: we found it suffered from both WebRTC and DNS leaks, regardless of how you configure the settings.
In terms of advanced features, there is a domain whitelister you can use to route select websites outside of the VPN tunnel, but this doesn’t make up for the lack of basic security tools.
Security researchers also found malware and tracking libraries embedded in the Android app.
Betternet uses the same proprietary connection protocol as the other VPN services in the Aura group: Hydra. Unfortunately, there’s no technical information about the protocol available.
However, the website’s FAQs go some way to reassure us that Catapult Hydra doesn’t affect security:
“It is important to note that our proprietary protocol is focused only on the performance of the VPN data transport, while using standard encryption with perfect forward secrecy.”
Overall, Betternet is not a particularly safe or secure VPN service. It uses standard encryption but fails to provide essential security features such as a VPN kill switch or effective leak protection.
Betternet throttles download speeds
Speed & Reliability
In our tests we've found that Betternet Free throttles speeds to 5Mbps on all connections. This is super slow and will prevent you streaming, torrenting or even browsing comfortably.
At first we were led to believe that Betternet was one of the fastest free VPNs around, but we were wrong.
During our initial speed tests, the VPN reached download speeds of almost 80Mbps – just a 20% drop from our normal internet speed.
That’s really fast considering the distance from us (in the UK) to the VPN server (in the US).
But after an hour or so of testing, the speeds dropped dramatically.
During our second round of speed tests Betternet failed to even reach 10Mbps down. That’s not good at all.
Local Speed Test results before using Betternet VPN:
- Download Speed: 97.59Mbps
- Upload Speed: 90.87Mbps
- Ping: 3ms
Local Speed Test results with Betternet VPN:
Download speed loss when Betternet VPN is running: 95%
This leads us to believe that the VPN throttles (intentionally slows down) free users’ speeds.
In fact there’s a button on the app that says ‘Connect faster’, which brings up the premium subscription options.
Uploads and ping times were equally as bad the second time we tested, so this is neither a good VPN choice for streaming fans, torrenters, nor gamers.
Luckily, there are some free VPNs that deliver good speeds, such as the ones you can see in our Hide.me review.
But if you want the best speeds, you’ll have to use a paid VPN service. See our list of the fastest VPNs here.
No Netflix or iPlayer and slow, throttled speeds
Betternet Free doesn't work with any premium streaming services. In our tests it wasn't able to access Netflix, BBC iPlayer or other services like Disney+. It can only stream some geoblocked content on YouTube and Vimeo.
In addition to Betternet’s unreliable speeds, the free app doesn’t reliably work with popular streaming services.
We have been able to watch Netflix shows on occasion, but it’s almost always blocked, bringing up the familiar proxy error message:
Netflix and other streaming sites actively block VPN traffic and most free VPNs don’t put resources into getting around the blocks.
There are no free UK servers so it’s impossible to watch BBC iPlayer, which requires a British IP address.
See our dedicated guide if you need a VPN for streaming. You’ll have to pay for the services, though.
P2P is blocked on all servers
While Betternet claims to allow torrenting, we found P2P torrenting is blocked during our tests. The service also lacks the minimal logging policy and kill switch required for torrenting.
Betternet’s FAQs state that it currently supports torrenting on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices. Our tests have always found P2P traffic to be blocked, though.
Even if it allowed P2P, Betternet is not an ideal VPN for P2P users.
For a start, the unreliable speeds quickly become a hassle, particularly if you’re located far away from the free US VPN servers.
Secondly, Betternet’s logging policy and the lack of a VPN kill switch is a problem for safe torrenting.
If you want a free VPN for anonymous P2P activities, we recommend you use one of these free VPNs for torrenting.
Only one server option available: US
Betternet's free service only offers free users the ability to connect to a server in the US, despite promising ten servers on its website. There is no city level selection, either.
Betternet’s free VPN limits users to just one country: the US.
The app is rather misleading about this, too. The Betternet website mentions 10 server countries, including the UK, Germany and Hong Kong. But, if you try connecting to these countries from the app, you’ll be asked to upgrade to a premium plan.
That may be fine if it’s only US content you need access to but, if not, you’ll need to try another VPN with more options.
Just be aware that Betternet doesn’t allow you to choose a particular state or city within the US.
If you upgrade to Betternet’s premium subscription you can access 72 countries and 26 US cities.
It costs $11.99 per month, or $2.99 a month if you subscribe to a yearly plan, and you can use the service on up to five devices at once.
No obfuscation technology and blocked in China
Betternet is blocked in China, and cannot beat the country's censorship. It could work in other censored regions, though.
If you need a VPN for bypassing censorship in China, Betternet definitely shouldn’t be your first choice (or even your 20th).
As a free user you can only connect to VPN servers in the US, which would bring your speeds down to halt.
Betternet doesn’t come with any additional obfuscation tools to overcome aggressive Chinese Firewall blocks, either, so you likely won’t even be able to connect. When we tried to connect from our Shanghai server, we found we couldn’t use Betternet to beat China’s censors.
Most free VPNs aren’t suited to working in China, or other high-censorship countries like Iran and the UAE.
Basic desktop and mobile apps only
Betternet is offered on four platforms: Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android. It also has a browser extension for Chrome. There isn’t a router app available, though.
Betternet comes with custom VPN apps for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS devices.
You can’t use it with Linux, routers, or any other devices like game consoles or streaming boxes (like Amazon Fire TV).
Betternet doesn’t allow for manual configuration, either, so the native VPN apps are all you get.
Betternet does come with a browser extension for Google Chrome, but there are no add-ons available for Mozilla Firefox, Safari, or Opera.
While the Chrome extension does encrypt browser traffic, you should take note that all other apps outside your web browser will be left unprotected.
Unlike the main desktop and mobile VPN apps, the browser extension comes allows you to connect to servers in multiple countries:
- The Netherlands
But don’t rush to download the Chrome extension. In fact, it suffers from two different types of security flaws: WebRTC leaks and DNS leaks.
WebRTC leaks expose your true IP address, and DNS leaks mean that your ISP (and anyone sniffing traffic between you and the DNS provider) can see all the websites that you’re visiting.
Simple apps that lack utility
Ease of Use
Betternet's apps are easy to use and install on all platforms, but they lack utility, features and customization.
How to Install & Set Up Betternet VPN
Betternet’s custom VPN apps for desktop and mobile devices are really easy to install and use.
It’s a case of downloading the relevant file from the website, clicking through a couple of installation prompts, and hitting ‘Connect’.
There aren’t really any settings to play with.
The virtual locations list is a little misleading as free users can’t use any of them. If you click on one, the app will prompt you to upgrade to the paid plan.
Within the settings menu, you can choose to ‘reconnect automatically’ or just connect on ‘unsafe WiFi hotspots’.
There’s also the ‘Prevent IP leak’ setting, which we’d recommend you leave on for obvious reasons.
The Betternet browser extension for Google Chrome is easy to set up.
Click through to the Chrome Web Store from Betternet’s website, and select ‘Add to Chrome.’
You’ll need to accept the permissions before you can add the extension to your browser.
Betternet’s extension is just as easy to use as the desktop app. There’s a connect button and a list of server locations to choose from – that’s pretty much it.
All that said, we don’t recommend downloading the extension as it leaks WebRTC and DNS requests, putting your personal data at risk.
Some FAQs are available but no email support
Betternet doesn’t provide any customer support for free users outside of the Help Center, which includes some basic FAQs and troubleshooting tips. These aren't all up to date, though.
The FAQs are fairly well organized, with sections for each supported device, but some are out of date and display incorrect information.
If you do try to email support without a premium subscription you’ll receive a short reply saying: “Sorry but we can’t respond personally.”
If you’re struggling with any issues, you’re pretty much on your own.
We don't recommend using Betternet
The Bottom Line
We do not recommend installing and using Betternet VPN. It isn’t a particularly safe or private VPN service, let alone a reliable one.
Our speeds were throttled within an hour of use, and you can only connect to one server location (the US).
Betternet’s browser extension for Google Chrome is particularly bad, suffering from not only DNS leaks, but WebRTC leaks too. It’s definitely one to avoid.
Instead of using Betternet, use one of the safe free VPN alternatives listed below.
Additional research by Liam Mullally
Alternatives to Betternet VPN
If you’re looking for another free VPN with unlimited data, ProtonVPN is a great choice. It’s safe, secure, and private. There are three locations to choose from and the speeds are pretty fast, too. Read ProtonVPN Free review
While Windscribe caps free user data to 10GB a month, it provides servers in 10 different countries, and allows you to drill down to city level in some of them, too. You can also use Windscribe Free to protect P2P traffic securely and safely. Read Windscribe review