Hola is a peer-to-peer proxy network that incorrectly markets itself as a VPN. It’s very quick on local connections but that’s because it’s essentially a browser extension that will spoof your IP address and nothing more. Don’t expect to be able to access popular streaming sites such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer or Hulu, as you’ll simply be greeted with an error message that these are only available if you sign up for a premium subscription, although why anybody would voluntarily pay for this service we don’t know.
Hola doesn’t offer any level of encryption, nor does it run on a VPN protocol, and there are no advanced privacy features such as a VPN kill switch to speak of. The logging policy means that the company monitors everything you do online, including all the websites you visit, and there are loads of previous issues regarding user bandwidth being sold on without their consent. Customer support is virtually non-existent and you can only use the software on Microsoft Windows and MacOS. Avoid at all costs.
Speed & Reliability
Hola is incredibly quick, especially on local connections, but that’s hardly surprising considering it’s essentially a proxy extension with no additional security benefits. It comes with an optional ‘accelerator’ that’s supposed to make streaming quicker and smoother, however this seems pretty pointless considering you can’t access any popular sites anyway.
You can expect speeds of up to 100Mbps connecting locally, and we found performance to be pretty reliable from one test to the next. Connecting out to the US from the UK (we test from London) you can expect speeds of around 64Mbps, which is around what we’ve seen from some of our top-tier providers. Long-distance connections weren’t bad either, coming in at 32Mbps in Australia and 55Mbps in Singapore.
The lowest latency we found in our tests was 8ms in London, which will just about do the job for most users. Keen gamers will most likely want to look elsewhere though, as there are providers out there offering secure, high-performance VPN solutions with ping times as low as 1ms.
It’s much the same story for torrenters – uploads are very quick (peaking at 100Mbps in France) but using Hola would be totally pointless as it will only ‘protect’ your browser traffic. Even if it did cover apps too, the ridiculously intrusive logging policy and lack of encryption would be enough to put anyone off.
Hola’s performance is very impressive, but that does come with the huge caveat that it provides you with no protection at all, and potentially exposes you to more harm than if you hadn’t used a VPN in the first place. It’s just not worth sacrificing all of your online privacy for, and we’d advise you to avoid it at all costs.
To read about our speed testing methodologies, please read How We Review VPNs.
The way Hola operates means that it doesn’t run a traditional server network, so there’s not a set list of servers you can choose from. It’s possible to appear to be connecting out from any country in the world, as long as someone else from that country has signed up to the service and is not using their IP address at that time.
When you use Hola, your traffic is routed through other users (‘peers’) in the Hola network, so someone else will appear to be connecting from your IP address while your device is ‘idle’. Essentially, there is a large pool of IP addresses for each country, and when you select that country you’ll simply be assigned one at random. Unfortunately it’s not currently possible to drill down to specific cities, which could be a problem for users in larger countries such as the US or Australia.
The one main advantage of having no fixed network is that it makes it a lot more difficult for sites to detect that you’re using a VPN, making it harder for them to block you. This structure is also the reason Hola is able to offer the service for free, as there are no server bills to pay. The obvious downside is that someone could use your IP address to engage in illicit activity without you knowing, but this is a risk you have to be prepared to take if you don’t want to pay for a VPN.
Platforms & Devices
The free Hola app is only currently available for Microsoft Windows and MacOS devices, coming in the form of a browser extension rather than a true desktop app. If you want to use the service on iOS, Android or any other mobile device you’ll have to sign up to the premium subscription.
There are browser extensions available for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, but these essentially do exactly the same thing as the Windows ‘app’. It’s not possible to use Hola with any sort of games consoles or streaming devices unless, again, you want to upgrade to the premium plan – this also applies to routers. If you need a VPN that’s compatible with a wide range of devices, consider our top pick ExpressVPN.
Streaming & Torrenting
If your main reason for using a VPN is to access popular streaming sites like Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Hulu, you should absolutely avoid the free version of Hola. Whenever we tried to stream content from any of these sites we simply received an error message telling us we needed to sign up for a premium subscription in order to use the ‘fast streaming servers’. It’s situations like this where it becomes very apparent that the free version of the app is nothing more than a carrot on a stick, used to tempt you into paying the monthly fee to upgrade.
Torrenters should also look elsewhere, as Hola does not support any sort of P2P activity. This is because it’s a browser-only VPN, and as torrent clients (such as BitTorrent) operate outside of the browser they won’t benefit from the ‘protection’ offered by the software. Even if torrenting was supported on Hola, we wouldn’t recommend it whatsoever due to a ridiculously intrusive logging policy, jurisdiction in privacy-unfriendly Israel and overarching concerns about the way the service operates. Torrenters should look into VPNs built with P2P activity in mind, such as IPVanish.
Encryption & Security
Considering Hola doesn’t function as a traditional VPN, there aren’t really any security features to speak of. It doesn’t operate on a VPN protocol and there’s no level of encryption; it’s essentially a peer-to-peer network you can use to spoof your IP address, and that’s it.
It works by routing your web traffic through someone else’s device, therefore making you appear to be connecting out from that IP address. However, this also means that a total stranger is using your IP address to connect, and you have no control over what they choose to do online – this just isn’t safe at all. Hola even admits that with this ‘new technology’ there can be workarounds where ‘malicious people can try to hijack your WiFi hotspot’ – this is far from what you want to hear from your VPN provider.
What’s more, there have been so many previous privacy issues with Hola that it’s difficult to understand why people are still using it. In 2015, Hola was caught selling bandwidth from its free users to users of its paid service (under the name ‘Luminati’) for upwards of $20 per GB, essentially creating a giant botnet of over 9 million IP addresses. This in turn enabled a Luminati user to take over the network and use it to launch a DDoS attack on the website 8chan, causing a 100x spike in peak traffic by sending thousands of DNS requests to the site in 30 seconds. You can read more about this here.
If you value your online privacy at all, we’d advise you to stay as far away from Hola as you possibly can. We’re not even sure how it can call itself a VPN as, from what we’ve seen, this ‘solution’ is likely to do more damage than good.
- Ad Blocker
If you’re planning on using Hola in a high-censorship country like China, we have one piece of advice: don’t.
For starters, it doesn’t even offer basic encryption or utilize a secure VPN protocol, let alone provide any sort of additional obfuscation tools such as a ‘stealth’ protocol or access to Tor over the VPN. This means that even if you were able to access the internet from the country, none of your personal information would be protected. What’s more, Hola would be monitoring everything you did while using their service, potentially exposing you to more privacy risks than if you were to just not use a VPN at all.
The same goes for those in other countries with high levels of internet censorship, like Saudi Arabia, Iran or Turkey. You need a VPN that’s going to provide you with an extra layer of privacy, not one that’s going to log everything you do online, so Hola simply won’t do the job. A good example of this is Astrill.
- Your browser type
- Web pages you visit and how long you spend on them
- Access dates and times
This means that nothing you do while using Hola is confidential, and can all be linked back to you personally as it also collects your originating IP address, name, email address and screen name, totally defeating the point of using a VPN in the first place. Anyone who values their online privacy at all will steer very clear of this company.
It also states that it will share all of the information it has on you for various different reasons, including to comply with law, regulation, subpoena or court orders. What’s more, even though Israel isn’t officially part of the ‘Fourteen Eyes’ intelligence-sharing agreement, it’s widely acknowledged that it is perfectly willing to disclose user details if pressed.
Ease of Use
Hola comes in the form of a browser extension rather than a desktop app, which is pretty disappointing given the way it’s advertised. That being said, this does make it really ease to use and it doesn’t take up too much space on your device. When you download the VPN, you also get an ad-blocker extension and an ‘accelerator’ feature. While the latter didn’t seem to make any difference, the ad-tracker did appear to be working, and we didn’t see any personalized ads while we had it running.
The VPN itself is pretty self-explanatory – simply connect to your country of choice and you’re good to go. You can also search for specific websites and Hola will recommend the best server location, or you can select from a list of sites that are popular in your chosen country. Annoyingly, some of these are for Premium users only, however these are helpfully marked with a little gold logo in the top right-hand corner.
When you’re connected to Hola, the flag of your destination country will display in your browser’s toolbar, which is pretty useful. There are no advanced settings to speak of but we expected that. While it’s a compact little app, take all of this with a (very large) pinch of salt, as not only will it not provide you with any sort of extra privacy, it could also expose you to more problems than if you were to not use a VPN at all.
Getting started with Hola is pretty much just a case of downloading the software from the website. Just click ‘Next’ on the installation prompts and you’ll be good to go, no login information required.
It should be noted that even though Hola is a browser extension, it will at first download into your task bar (bar along the bottom of your screen). All you have to do is click on the icon and it will open a browser tab explaining how to use the service – from then on it should always be visible when you open a new tab.
Hola’s customer support is almost non-existent. There are loads of FAQs on the website, but most of these feel like they’re only there to cover the company’s back following previous issues relating to user data being shared and sold. Other than that, there’s nothing much of substance, bar a couple of useful tips for general troubleshooting purposes.
There’s also no live chat option, but we were hardly surprised by this considering it’s a free product. There is an email address you can contact, however, so we sent them a few basic questions and waited for a response. After a while, it became apparent that that wasn’t going to happen, and our queries would remain unanswered. We’re not quite sure why Hola bothers including an email address on their website at all if there’s no point in anyone using it, but the software is so simple you’re unlikely to need to.
The Bottom Line
- Simple, easy-to-use apps
- Excellent local speeds
- Connect to any country worldwide
- Doesn’t use encryption or VPN protocol
- Monitor and log all your online activity
- Company history of abusing user data
- Doesn’t work with Netflix or torrenting
- Non-existent customer support
Hola is a peer-to-peer networking solution that’s designed to spoof your IP address rather than act as any sort of VPN. By downloading the software, you consent to your device being used as an ‘exit node’ (essentially a router) so other people can connect using your IP address. This means that anything they do online will be linked back to you, which is ridiculously unsafe.
Hola’s two main selling points are performance and the easy-to-use software. While it has to be said that it is indeed very quick and the browser extension ‘app’ is extremely user-friendly, neither of these are good enough reasons to make anyone want to sign up to this VPN. If you value your personal information, stay well away from Hola.