Do All Free VPNs Collect and Sell User Information?by Franz F. Writer, Editor
Free VPNs used to be all the craze back in the day. You install a small-sized size file on your PC, launch the application, and voila! The entire world wide web becomes accessible, free from needless restrictions. What’s more, you also got the benefit of spoofing your IP address because there’s no good reason why strangers on the internet should be able to see your IP address, right?
While the convenience of having complete unrestricted access to the web with strong privacy is great to have, free rides seldom last long. In the case of VPN services, the truth that everybody might have suspected but no one really wanted to admit soon came out: most free VPN services sell user information for a profit.
The Real Cost of Free VPN Tools
There have been several cases where free providers were found to be selling user information to advertisers and even their bandwidth. The case of Hola VPN, a peer-to-peer networking “VPN” where every user volunteered to have their computer and internet resources be used by other members of the network. Hola not only tracked their users throughout the web, but inherent bugs in the software allowed anyone in the network to access computer resources of another remotely.
So much for a service that’s supposed to protect your privacy.
Betternet is another VPN that was found to be one of the providers that uses tracking libraries in its apps to trace a user’s online behavior on the web and sell this information for a profit.
The worst example of free VPNs spying on user behavior is Facebook’s Onavo. Although society should have known better than to trust anything by Facebook – the most shameless aggressor against user privacy – any doubts we entertained about the legitimacy of Onavo as a privacy-respecting VPN were confirmed when it was found to be tracking smartphone usage behavior of users and relaying that information to Facebook.
In fact, it is speculated that Facebook’s decision to purchase WhatsApp was spurred by the realization that people generally preferred to use WhatsApp over Facebook’s messenger – a realization conveyed by the data that Onavo was collecting about users’ smartphone behavior.
These are only some of the more notable examples of free VPN providers selling user information. If you dig deep enough, you will likely uncover many more similar cases, pushing you away from ever considering free VPNs for your privacy or unblocking needs ever again (though free VPN solutions for Netflix are still in hot demand.)
Having said that, there are still VPN services that are worthy of your trust and which don’t have any incentive to engage in practices like selling your information.
What Makes Some Free VPNs Safe?
Generally, if you see a free VPN, chances are that it’s not an ideal solution for your privacy and it may be involved in unreasonable data sharing practices. Nonetheless, it is important to understand a VPN’s business model if you want to determine whether a VPN has any incentive to sell your information.
When it comes to free VPNs, there are two types of providers that offer these services: those that offer their free product as a standalone service with no other direct streams of revenue and those that offer their free VPN as a limited version of their full-fledged product which they sell for a good price.
Operating a VPN takes money and resources. At the very least, the company has to rent servers and bear operational costs associated with these. It is inconceivable that any company with no means of making money will bear these costs out of the goodness of their heart and offer free access to users in the name of philanthropy. It is much more likely that the provider is selling your data and information and is making enough profit this way to continue offering their VPN for “free”.
On the other hand, take examples of reputed companies like Windscribe and ProtonVPN. These companies have a clear and transparent business model: they have several paid products and they offer a free version of their VPN with limited functionalities that can only be unlocked if you upgrade to the paid version.
In this model, the company doesn’t rely on its free VPN for profit. Rather, the free service servers only as a “teaser” of the real deal, a marketing effort. As such, these companies do not need to endanger their reputation by selling user privacy in order to afford their operational costs.
If you are looking for safe VPNs to try, you should definitely go with these companies. Any company that doesn’t have a clear business model and which seems to be offering its service completely for free without any supporting products that can help it make a profit must be avoided at all costs.
And this is how you can determine for yourself if a free VPN is worth trusting.
Created on May 19th 2020 00:32. Viewed 280 times.