Betternet’s smiling shield may look innocent and inviting, but can this free VPN service really be trusted?
According to the Betternet website millions of users already do, but we never take the number of users as an indication of quality or security. Instead we take matters into our own hands.
We’ve tested all aspects of this free VPN service to let you know the answers to your most burning questions:
- Is Betternet free VPN safe?
- How fast is it?
- Can you watch Netflix with Betternet?
- Who’s behind Betternet VPN?
- Does Betternet Free permit torrenting?
We’ve also also answered a bunch of other important questions, but before we get into the nitty gritty, here’s a breakdown of Betternet’s good and (mostly) bad points:
Betternet Free Pros & Cons
Betternet Free Key Summary
|Top Download Speed||7Mbps|
|Logging Policy||Some User Logs|
|IP, DNS or WebRTC Leaks||Yes|
|Jurisdiction||US (Five-Eyes Member)|
|IP Addresses||Not disclosed|
|Works in China||No|
|Support||Online Resources Only|
Those are what we believe to be the most important factors – now let’s begin our Betternet review with a deeper look into the background of the company and how much it logs about users.
About & Logging Policy
Who is Betternet Free?
Betternet (company name: Betternet LLC Inc.) is part of the Pango group (formerly known as AnchorFree), which also owns a host of other VPN services:
All of the Pango VPN products share the same privacy and logging policy, but the group hasn’t had the smoothest run during the past few years.
Hotspot Shield, in particular, has been embroiled in various controversies, including allegations of injecting affiliate links into free users’ traffic, not classing IP addresses as personal information, and a vulnerability that made it possible for hackers and snoopers to view users’ true location through their WiFi network name.
Betternet hasn’t escaped all controversy though – a recent academic report on VPNs has revealed that Betternet’s Android app was riddled with malware and embedded tracking libraries. Betternet hasn’t publicly addressed this.
Betternet’s jurisdiction doesn’t make things much better, either.
Betternet LLC Inc. is incorporated in California, USA, which is part of the Five-Eyes international intelligence-sharing group and is subject to intrusive surveillance laws.
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.
While this looks pretty worrying at first glance, Pango does assure Betternet users that despite the logs it can’t link any browsing activity to individual VPN users.
Pango’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.”
It’s not the worst free VPN logging policy we’ve read, but there are far more private options available.
See our list of the best free VPNs for the most private and safe complimentary VPN services.
The Android app seems to allow for more usage tracking, so we advise against downloading it.
When you try to connect to the VPN you must first enable a setting on your phone that allows the app to “monitor which other apps you use and how often and identify your service provider, language settings, and other usage data.”
Speed & Reliability
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.
Speed results from our physical location in London (100Mbps fibre optic connection) to a US test server.
Before using Betternet Free:
When connected to Betternet Free:
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.
There are some VPNs that provide good speeds to free users, like Hide.me, but if you want the best speeds you’ll have to pay for it.
Just one free server location - it’s in the US
Betternet’s free VPN limits users to just one country: the US.
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.
For instance, TunnelBear has a free plan with servers in 22 countries – paid VPN providers tend to offer way more.
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.
Streaming & Torrenting
Free users can’t watch Netflix, BitTorrent is blocked
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.
If you need a VPN for streaming check out our dedicated guide – you’ll have to pay for the services, though.
While Betternet’s FAQs state that it currently supports torrenting on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices, it’s not an ideal VPN for P2P users.
For a start the unreliable speeds will quickly become a hassle, particularly if you’re located far away from the free US VPN servers.
Secondly, Betternet’s logging policy and lack of VPN kill switch doesn’t make it the safest VPN for torrenting.
If P2P is your priority, take a look at the following guides that we’ve written:
Not good for China or other high-censorship countries
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.
Most free VPNs aren’t suited to working in China, or other high-censorship countries like Iran and the UAE.
Platforms & Devices
Basic desktop & mobile apps, plus browser extensions
Betternet comes with custom VPN apps for:
- Microsoft Windows
- Apple MacOS
You can’t use it will 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 ready-made 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 because of that.
We found it to suffer 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.
If you want to learn more about VPN leaks, you can read our comprehensive guide here.
Encryption & Security
Proprietary protocol and no VPN kill switch
Please see our VPN Glossary if these terms confuse you and would like to learn more.
As Betternet is part of the Pango group it uses the same proprietary VPN protocol as the rest of the VPNs in the group: Catapult Hydra.
There’s no technical information about the protocol, though.
The FAQs do 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.”
Betternet uses AES-128 and AES-256 ciphers to encrypt traffic, the latter of which is considered to be the best in the business.
But that’s where the positives end.
There aren’t any security extras included – not even a VPN kill switch to protect your data in case of a sudden drop in the VPN connection. We consider kill switches to be essential.
Then there’s the malware that researchers found in the Android app (we talked about this in the ‘Who Is Betternet?’ section).
We also found something peculiar when we looked around the Betternet apps.
There is a feature called ‘Prevent IP leaks’ within the settings menu, which is switched on by default.
Considering the point of a VPN is to mask your true IP address and prevent your personal data from being exposed, we don’t see why this is a necessary feature.
But don’t, under any circumstances, switch it off, because when you do Betternet exposes your DNS requests to your ISP. When it was enabled, we didn’t experience leaks.
Betternet does include a domain whitelister so that you can route select websites outside of the VPN tunnel, but this doesn’t make up for the lack of basic security tools.
Ease of Use
Quick and easy to install, very simple apps
How to Install & Set Up Betternet Free
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.
Just click through to the Chrome Web Store from Betternet’s website and click ‘Add to Chrome’ in the top right of the page.
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 on the website, 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.
It’s fairly well organized, with sections for each supported device, but some of the FAQs are out of date and display incorrect information.
While the FAQs on the website indicate that free users only get 500MB of free data per day, this doesn’t actually seem to be the case. We used Betternet for multiple speed tests, streaming tests, and more without hitting a cap.
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.
The Bottom Line
Do We Recommend Betternet Free?
Not at all. Betternet 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.
Alternatives to Betternet Free
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
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