Free VPNs are an appealing concept that goes without saying. You get all the benefits of something you’d normally have to pay for, without having to open your wallet. Plus, there’s almost an unlimited selection of them to choose from. But is it really that simple, or is it too good to be true? Well, as the old saying goes, nothing is truly free, and there’s no such thing as free lunch either. In the paragraphs below, we’ll attempt to explain why this is so.
A VPN provider needs to cover the maintenance costs somehow
These costs are recurring and not low. Thus, the question presents itself: if you’re not contributing anything towards covering them, what’s in it for the provider? Unless they’re a charity (which they aren’t), these costs need to be paid somehow. In other words, they’re getting something out of you, otherwise, they wouldn’t be doing this. Usually, top tier VPN providers offer free trials so that customers can test out the service by themselves. But the period usually lasts for a week or two.
They may be selling your data for profit
This is one way for them to monetize you. The thing is, when you’re using the free VPN to browse the web, you’re still leaving a trail behind. It may be invisible to your ISP and the webmasters, but the VPN provider knows where you’ve been. There’s tons of analytics and advertising companies who are willing to pay good money to get their hands on it. Thus, if you’re a free VPN user, the provider may be making money off you without you even knowing. A recent case study found that 75% of VPN providers are collecting user data; the proof is in the software’s source code.
They may be reselling your bandwidth
This is not just hearsay; not too long ago, Hola VPN, an Israel-based free VPN provider, was caught doing this. Since millions of users have had their bandwidth stolen and unknowingly sold to others, the issue is far from innocent. Would you want to risk having your resources used by others for activities unbeknown to you? Just because certain free VPN provider hasn’t been caught doing this yet, it doesn’t signify their innocence.
They may be distributing malware
You may be wondering what they’d gain from doing this, but the answer, once again, is simple: money. The data you store on your PC may be of high value, and they’re dying to find out. And even if your hard drive doesn’t contain anything other than the operating system, if their intentions are not of the purest origin, they may want to stick their nose into your online accounts. By infecting your PC with keyloggers, your login credentials can get sent straight to their servers, available for perusal on demand. Either that or they may lock up your important files and demand a ransom in exchange for sending you a key for unlocking it.
They may be hijacking your browser
Browser hijacking is quite a blatant violation of your privacy, but this is another way free VPN providers may be monetizing you for their benefit. So what constitutes browser hijacking? Being unwillingly redirected to a partner website is an example of this. Since they never asked for your permission, it’s a clear violation of your rights and an act of cybercrime. If you purchase anything through them, they get paid a commission, and that’s how they make money. In case you’re wondering which modern free VPN provider would dare to attempt such a thing, Hotspot Shield is one of the many names being caught red-handed in recent times.
They may be leaking your real IP
Since delivering top-notch services is probably not a free VPN provider’s first priority, who knows what shortcuts they may have taken during development. One of the main purposes of using a VPN in the first place is masking your real IP with a fake one, but with low-quality VPN clients, the IP you’re so desperately trying to hide may be leaking through. Even when holes in the source code are discovered, the development team may not be responsible or motivated enough to patch them. That’s not to say that paid VPNs are not guilty of this, but the chances of this happening are notably smaller in comparison. Ask yourself this: would you be willing to trust a roofer to fix a leak for free? Probably not, and the same principle applies to use free VPN clients.
The examples outlined above clearly demonstrate why free VPNs may not be as free as they seem. In essence, they are full of security holes and present a threat to the security of your PC. Paid VPNs, on the other hand, won’t be jeopardizing your security, and some packages start at only $5 a month, so they can hardly be labeled as expensive. But in the end, the decision is yours to make; based on what you know, would you be willing to place your safety in the hands of a free VPN provider?