Free VPN is a service for those not prepared to spend a dime, but it only provides a rudimentary and compromised experience. Part of the problem is that this app for your phone just doesn’t do as it claims, either in its assurances of privacy or the amount of locations it can actually connect to.
Speed & Reliability
While we would have loved to have tested for performance in all the regions Free VPN claims to connect to, a simple IP check shockingly reveals that the app only connects you to one of three nations despite your ‘choice’: US, UK or Germany.
Outside of decent download and upload speeds when connecting to the UK (where we test from) with 43Mbps down and 39Mbps up, the rest is consistently underwhelming, coming in at a measly 6Mbps down for Germany and 4Mbps for the US.
The latency is also a drag with the best results coming in at a very laggy 99ms on same-city connections. For gamers this is a no-no, but even for general purpose, you might want to think twice. Other free VPNs offer ping times of under 10ms, such as TunnelBear.
You may get by with general browsing and streaming, even in HD, but anything more high performance – torrenting, gaming – is outside of this VPNs ability.
To read about how we conduct our speed-testing read How We Review VPNs.
While the app presents you with a choice of 12 different locations, there are actually only four. What looks initially like an impressive list of regions to connect to, including Scandinavia, Asia, Middle East and more, when actually investigated, reveals that there are actually fewer IP addresses available than suggested geographical regions.
With Free VPN you can only connect to the usual Western countries (and only a few of them) – US, UK, Germany. Within these nations, Free VPN will only connect you to one of a maximum variety of eight IP addresses, either in Chicago, New York, Cologne or London.
This is a severely limiting (and deceptive) list, even among free VPNs. So staggering was this result that we triple-checked them, connecting to every available region multiple times and making note of every available IP.
Yet never does the app inform you of this. As far as a trusting user is concerned, you are connected to the location it states you are. Simply, this is an app neglecting its responsibility to be honest to its user, one that cannot be trusted.
If you want a trustworthy VPN with hundreds of servers then we would strongly suggest NordVPN.
Platforms & Devices
This is a free VPN reserved for your iPhone or Android, meaning that you’ll have to look elsewhere for your desktop needs.
Streaming & Torrenting
Considering the notorious difficulty of connecting to and streaming BBC iPlayer for many VPNs, the most pleasant surprise of Free VPN was how well it buffered and streamed iPlayer content quickly, uninterrupted and at good quality.
Netflix, however, continues to remain off limits. With such low download speeds for the US it’s not likely to look good even if you did get access.
Encryption & Security
Free VPN claims to offer “fully encrypted” data, a “secure connection” and “complete anonymity”, but details on protocols or security protections are not made transparent anywhere on the app or the website.
Free VPN informed us in an email that it employs the SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) protocol, which creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN provider. Our investigation found that it uses TLS 1.2, the most up-to-date version of the protocol. While this doesn’t provide the same balance between performance and privacy as other protocols, such as OpenVPN, it’s more likely to work everywhere as it’s rarely blocked by internet providers or WiFi network firewalls.
Free VPN also told us that it uses proprietary encryption, which is essentially a self-authored encryption. The problem with such claims is that it remains impossible for us to validate with no further details being provided, meaning that we have to take Free VPN’s word for it.
But worst of all is the lack of kill switch provided. Considering that the app does have a penchant for losing connection, this omission is a cause for serious concern.
It didn’t leak any of our DNS requests during tests, though, which is one positive among many negatives.
- SSL VPN
There’s no mention of China, Russia or using Free VPN in other censored nations within the information provided on the companies website. Asking Free VPN for details on this, they merely told us, in as little detail as possible: “Yes it does work within censored regions like China.” What exactly ‘works’ means and what obfuscation tools are implemented remains unknown to us. There are far more reliable (and secure) options out there should you need to connect out from China – here are our recommendations.
The policy declares in big capital letters, “We DO NOT sell, trade, or otherwise transfer to outside parties your personally identifiable information.” However, this excludes “trusted third parties”, and non-personally-identifiable information “may be provided to other parties for marketing, advertising, or other uses.”
Free VPN is based in California, US. This is one of the worst places to base your VPN. In the US, net neutrality rules have been controversially repealed and surveillance powers are extremely sophisticated and invasive. Worse, our Free VPN App investigation can reveal Free VPN has ties to Chinese ownership, a nation which aggressively pursues VPN use and restricts internet freedom within its borders.
Alongside the app’s willingness to share information in order to ‘comply with the law, enforce [its] site policies, or protect [its] or others rights, property, or safety’, this is certainly not the VPN you need to avoid snooping and to maintain your privacy.
Ease of Use
In the arena of design, Free VPN is perfectly fine. The app is almost entirely made up of a single home screen in which a sleeping panda image acts as the VPN connect button. Press the button to connect and the panda wakes up. Above the panda sits an easy enough ‘Change Location’ option. This app is essentially two buttons, which makes it great for user functionality. Just why the button is designed in the shape of a panda can only leave us guessing – even in the knowledge of the apps links to China.
But it starts to go downhill from here. Ads incessantly pop-up, especially for Android users in which you are offered to ‘Watch video to earn ad free time’. This is annoying even if it is to be expected of a free service. Worse, a ‘Failure to connect to VPN server’ message occurs beyond all reasonable tolerance. Too many times you will find yourself having to relaunch the app.
The download is simple and only a few seconds long. Best of all, there are absolutely no details to fill out. Installation and operation of this app is made as simple as possible, making a ‘How To’ guide gratefully unnecessary. There are also no attempts to trick you to sign up to the paid version – something we’ve come across regularly on these free VPNs.
Upon launch, you are shown a lot of words asking permission for a “more personalised experience.” This is essentially permission to retain information, something which, to Free VPN’s credit, you can refuse with no impediment to the app’s performance.
Free VPN’s support (or lack thereof) fails to convince us that it truly cares about its customers. With little information on its website, we emailed the email address available on the Contact Us page only to receive a very short reply days later from a managing company called ActMobile Inc. Frustrated customer reviews reveal that often users don’t even receive a reply.
Do not expect to find much help in the abysmal FAQ either, which instead of attempting to actually answer any technical problems or resolving potential scenarios, mostly consists of self-congratulatory declarations of how free the app is. Such helpful questions include: “Are you really free?” The answer to which is, “Yes, we really are free.” This is followed by the not-so-different question, “How much does it cost to use FreeVPN.org’s VPN?” The answer: “Nothing.”
The Bottom Line
- Works well with BBC iPlayer
- Simple to use
- Minimal security
- Does not do as it claims
- Poor customer support
In what can at best be described as a blatant lie, telling you that you are connected to a specific region but are actually somewhere completely different is a cardinal sin when it comes to VPN utility. Issues like this can make or break a VPN, which needs to be straight-up and transparent with you. Due to that, Free VPN should not only be discouraged, it should be stripped of the name VPN.