Untrustworthy and potentially dangerous
Logging & Jurisdiction
Hola is upfront about sharing user information with third parties. It's also been caught seeling user bandwidth in the past. Using it's VPN service is neither safe or private. Stay away.
Hola VPN is a very privacy unfriendly service. In fact, we rarely see logging policies as intrusive as Hola’s.
Here’s what Hola VPN stores when you use its service:
- The websites you visit
- Time spent on those websites
- Your true IP address
- Connection timestamps
- Your browser type
- Your name, email address, screen name, payment and billing information
If you choose to subscribe to the VPN through a social network account, Hola has access to even more information including: your home address, birth date, profile picture, friend list, personal bio, and any publicly available information on your account.
Hola tries to reassure its users that it doesn’t “rent or sell any personal information,” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t share it with third parties:
“We may disclose Personal Information to other trusted third party service providers or partners for the purposes of providing you with the Services, storage and analytics. We may also transfer or disclose Personal Information to our subsidiaries, affiliated companies.”
What’s even worse, Hola will retain all this information for “as long as necessary.”
In short, Hola’s privacy and logging policy is unsatisfactory. This is not a service you want to entrust all your personal data with.
Who Owns Hola VPN?
Hola VPN was founded by Ofer Vilenski and Derry Shribman under the company name Hola Networks Limited, based in Israel.
The product was launched in 2012, and gained traction in January 2013 when it moved from 80 downloads a day to 40,000 overnight.
Hola Networks Limited provides a free consumer ‘VPN’ service, as well as a premium subscription and corporate service called Luminati.
Luminati uses free users’ bandwidth, which is charged per gigabyte, without reimbursing the free user. This practice has sparked criticism among cybersecurity professionals.
Thankfully, this is now clearly advertised when you download the app, as you can see in the screenshot below.
How Hola VPN actually works
Hola VPN is a peer-to-peer overlay network that uses peer-to-peer caching and routing for quick access to blocked content.
This means users of Hola VPN throw their real IP address into a pool of IP addresses for other users to use as they please.
When you use Hola VPN, your internet traffic is routed through other peers (called nodes), but it’s not encrypted.
While some subscribers may use Hola VPN as a website unblocker, there’s no way to stop others using your IP address to access unlawful content.
Free users also share their ‘idle resources’ (WiFi and cellular data) with the network, which means that Hola VPN doesn’t incur underlying operational costs.
Hola VPN defines ‘idle’ as “the device is not using battery but is connected to electricity; no mouse or keyboard activity has been detected; and the device is connected to the internet.”
Despite its “goal of making a better internet,” selling user bandwidth is not the only controversy Hola VPN has been embroiled in to date.
In May 2015, 8chan founder Fredrick Brennan claimed that his website had been DDoS attacked by users exploiting the Hola network, which Vilenski later confirmed.
A website named Adios, Hola!, created by nine security researchers, states that Hola is “harmful to the internet as a whole, and to its users in particular” and labels it a “poorly secured botnet” with “serious consequences.”
The researchers at Adios, Hola! discovered various vulnerabilities within the Hola VPN architecture, one of which reportedly allowed anyone to execute programs on your computer.
According to the website, Hola fixed some of the vulnerabilities, but others still remain.
Hola VPN is also vulnerable to IP address leaks and has facilitated data scraping, according to cybersecurity firm Trend Micro.
Hola VPN’s jurisdiction
Hola VPN is based in Israel, which isn’t an official member of the Five Eyes (or Nine or 14 Eyes) intelligence-sharing alliance, but it collaborates with it.
Fast speeds at the expense of privacy and security
Speed & Reliability
Hola is pretty fast, but this is mostly because it operates an insecure proxy, not a VPN. As a result it isn't possible to directly compare it's speed results to competing services.
We’re not going to compare Hola’s speeds with the other VPNs we’ve tested because Hola isn’t really a VPN service, it’s more like a proxy.
Hola uses an unencrypted connection, resulting in less slowdowns but considerably more risk, and only browser traffic is routed through the peer nodes.
The node you’re connecting to can also affect your connection speeds. So, if the peer you’re routing your traffic through has poor internet speeds, yours may suffer too.
When we connected to a node in a nearby country, we experienced practically no speed drop off.
Local Speed Test results before using Hola Free VPN:
- Download Speed: 50Mbps
- Upload Speed: 50Mbps
- Ping: 4ms
Local Speed Test results with Hola Free VPN:
Download speed loss when Hola Free VPN is running: 10%
Note: While we typically test on a 100Mbps fibre optic connection, we could only test Hola VPN’s speeds using its Android app, and our Android device’s speed is capped at 50Mbps.
In our latest tests, Hola’s speeds dropped a little over long distances and ping times increased, but that’s to be expected. The longer the distance the connection travels, the slower the speed and the higher the latency.
Connecting from the UK to the US, we recorded 35Mbps download speed and 48Mbps upload speed, with a ping time of 97ms.
Fast speeds shouldn’t be a reason to use Hola VPN due to its lack of encryption and the security risks it brings. See our list of the fastest (safe) VPNs, instead.
Locations vary based on users in the peer-to-peer network
Hola has an unsual server system which relies on other users for exit points. This means the server locations can vary, although it's network tends to be fairly large and spread globally.
The way Hola VPN works – by routing traffic through other peers on the network – means there are no fixed number of locations you can connect to.
The availability of locations entirely depends on where the current users are located. However, Hola VPN lists all 195 of the world’s countries within its app.
At times, when we selected a particular country, Hola VPN didn’t even change our true IP address. This is a big red flag.
We can only assume this happens when no users from that country are using Hola at that moment in time. But, Hola’s app indicated we were connected to the country. In other words, the proxy was leaking our real IP address.
To make it worse, some popular websites and services aren’t accessible via Hola free VPN, including the BBC news website, for example. If you attempt to visit those websites, Hola will ask you to upgrade.
If you choose not to upgrade, Hola won’t route your traffic through its network. In other words, it won’t hide your IP address.
Browser extensions don’t use the peer-to-peer network
The Chrome. Firefox and Opera browser extensions are not part of the peer-to-peer network. The add-ons only give access to Hola’s standard servers.
There are no details about these proxy server locations on Hola’s website, but the company’s customer support told us the following:
“Hola VPN has servers in over 40 countries. We don’t need to have servers in each and every country as we leverage our peer-to-peer network in other countries.”
Regardless, when we tried to connect to Bangladesh we were given a UK IP address.
This suggests that Hola’s service isn’t working as it should.
Free users can’t stream Netflix
With Hola Free VPN we weren't able to stream popular services like BBC iPlayer or US Netflix.
The free version of Hola VPN doesn’t work with popular streaming platforms like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or Hulu.
You’ll have to pay for the Premium or the Ultra Hola VPN service to unblock these content platforms.
The Premium plan costs $14.95 per month, or $7.69 per month if you commit to a yearly subscription. You can use the Premium account on up to 10 devices at any given time.
Not good for torrenting
Hola VPN blocks all BitTorrent traffic. Even if it didn’t, this dangerous peer-to-peer VPN shouldn’t be used to anonymize your torrenting traffic.
Hola Free VPN provides no connection encryption, and no kill switch either. If your VPN connection fails, your real IP address will be visible to everyone.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the VPN service logs and stores your web activity. Moreover, it isn’t afraid to hand that information over to authorities.
Doesn't work in China and other high-censorship countries
When we tested Hola VPN on our Shanghai server it didn't beat China's censorship. We don't expect it to work well in other censored regions, either.
Hola VPN doesn’t come with any obfuscation tools to beat the Chinese censors.
The service’s lack of encryption means you won’t be able to access blocked content in China, due to the Great Firewall’s use of deep packet inspection (DPI).
We tested Hola VPN from our Shanghai test server, and can confirm that Hola VPN does not work in China.
Basic desktop and mobile apps
Platforms & Devices
Hola is available for Windows and Android devices. It only offers proxy browsers, though, not full VPN apps.
Hola VPN provides free (unencrypted) VPN apps for Windows and Android devices. However these apps don’t work like normal VPNs, more like proxy browsers.
Instead of routing all device traffic through the tunnel they only route traffic within the app, which acts as a web browser.
There is an option to route certain external apps through the VPN on the Android app, but it works on an app-by-app basis rather than routing all the device’s internet traffic by default.
For MacOS users there is no custom app – you just have to use the browser add-ons for Chrome, Firefox, or Opera.
If you want to use Hola on iOS you’ll have to upgrade to the paid-for subscription.
But why would you when there are many safe and free iOS VPN apps available instead?
Hola VPN provides browser extensions for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera.
These work at a browser level, so they won’t change the IP address of any traffic linked to apps outside of your web browser and don’t use encryption.
According to Hola VPN the browser extensions “operate as a standard VPN service” aren’t part of the peer-to-peer VPN network, so at the very least your IP address isn’t being used by strangers.
No encryption or security tools available
Security & Features
Hola Free VPN isn’t really a VPN - it doesn’t encrypt users’ internet traffic and only routes traffic within the web browser/client app, not at an OS level (device-wide).
With Hola, users’ traffic is routed through nodes (other users’ devices), and spoofs your IP address (using that device’s IP address) to get around website blocks.
That means that other people – complete strangers – are using your IP address to do with as they please. That could get you into a lot of trouble.
According to a member of the customer support team, users’ traffic is first sent to Hola servers before it reaches the peer nodes for security reasons, but this still doesn’t make Hola secure enough for our liking.
There are no security features – like a kill switch or leak blocking – to keep your personal data safe, either. The Windows app does come with an ad-blocker, though.
We experienced WebRTC leaks during our tests, which means that our true IP address was left exposed.
The very architecture of Hola Free VPN means that your personal data is not secure or private. Hackers can still intercept your traffic and your ISP can still see the websites you visit.
Hola VPN PLUS, which is the paid-for product, does use standard VPN protocols and encryption, and doesn’t use your device as a peer, but you’ll still be subject to Hola’s intrusive logging policy, so we still strongly advise against using it. It’s not particulaly good value for such a risky product, either.
Easy to set up and use but has flaws
Ease of Use
For all it's faults, Hola VPN is actually quite easy to use on both Windows and Android devices.
How to Install & Set Up Hola Free VPN
It’s really easy to download and set up Hola VPN on Android and Windows.
You just download the software from the website or Google Play Store, click through a couple of prompts, and accept that your bandwidth will be sold to unknown corporations for good or bad.
For MacOS users there is no ‘app’ – even if the downloads page misleads you to think so. The only way to use Hola with MacOS devices is to download the browser add-ons.
However we only found that out after downloading what we thought was a custom app. It turned out to be a shortcut to a web page asking us to download a browser extension.
In a nutshell, both the Windows and Android apps don’t work like other VPN apps, either. Instead of routing all your device’s internet traffic through the VPN, Hola’s apps work more like proxy browsers.
You have to do all your online activities within the Hola app – which is like a web browser – in order to change your IP.
The Android app gives you the option to route other apps through the VPN but you have to do this on an app-by-app basis through the Hola app interface.
To use the Windows and Android apps, it’s pretty simple.
All you need to do is select the service or website you want to access and then choose the country you want to access it from the drop-down locations list. A small flag will indicate which country you are connected to.
The apps have had a visual overhaul and look pretty good, too. That gloss makes Hola look trustworthy, but it doesn’t actually address the real dangers of this service.
The proxy browser works tab-by-tab, so one tab could be connected to the USA, while another is connected to Germany, for instance.
But as if Hola VPN weren’t dangerous enough, sometimes when you connect to some countries it doesn’t actually change your IP address, despite telling you that you’re connected.
On other occasions Hola would give us an IP address associated with a different country to the one we selected.
If you have already downloaded it to your device and read this review you’re probably wondering…
How do I get rid of Hola VPN?
For the Windows app, go to ‘Programs and Features’ in Control Panel and uninstall Hola VPN. MacOS users should drag the Hola VPN client from Applications to Trash and restart their computer. Be sure to delete any of the software download files, too.
On Android and iOS it’s as simple as long-tapping on the app and clicking Uninstall or Delete.
Like all browser extensions, Hola VPN add-ons are very easy to install.
Visit the add-ons store for your web browser (Chrome, Firefox, or Opera) and search for Hola. Then you’d add it to your browser and accept the permissions.
It then works much the same as the desktop and mobile apps. Just select a service or website you wish to access and the country you’d like to appear to be from.
If you want to remove Hola’s browser extension, uninstall it from within the browser settings. On Chrome, just right-click on the Hola icon and click ‘Remove from Chrome’.
Some FAQs and email support
Hola offers unhelpful FAQs on its website, and little in the way of genuine support.
On top of all of its privacy and security issues, Hola VPN’s customer support isn’t very good, either.
There are a bunch of FAQs available on its website, but these read more like a disclaimer than genuine help.
Hola VPN came under scrutiny when it previously didn’t disclose the relationship between free users’ data and the Luminati corporate service, but that has since been rectified on the FAQs page.
You can find out how the VPN service works (by using your personal information and data), how it makes money (ditto), and some very basic troubleshooting tips.
However, there are no detailed set-up instructions or user guides. There’s no live chat support either.
Hola VPN does supply a support email address, and in the past all of our queries were left ignored. However, during our most recent tests we were relieved to finally receive some replies.
The replies we did get were initially unhelpful – just redirecting us to the FAQs. After some perseverence we were able to get the help we needed, though.
Avoid using Hola VPN
The Bottom Line
We discourage the use of Hola VPN. It’s one of the worst VPNs you could possibly choose.
The VPN hijacks your internet connection and undermines your safety and privacy online.
It’s not safe to use, and it puts your device, personal identity, and online security at risk.
If you want to use a safe VPN without spending money, take a look at the two free VPN alternatives below, instead.
Additional research by Liam Mullally
Alternatives to Hola Free VPN
Windscribe is one of the best free VPNs around - it’s safe, private, and pretty fast. You can connect securely to 10 different countries and you get 10GB of data to use per month. Read Windscribe review
If you need more than 10GB of data a month you should use ProtonVPN, which provides unlimited data. It’s a reliable free VPN that comes with loads of security features for safe browsing. Read ProtonVPN Free review