Free VPNs? Why you should think twice and why paying for one is a good idea. Like, now.
With the internet privacy rollback being signed into law, a lot of people are talking about VPNs and wondering how to protect themselves from being tracked online.
“If something online is free, you’re not the customer — you’re the product.” — Jonathan Zittrain
First, let’s acknowledge what a VPN does. It essentially routes all of your web traffic through a 3rd party. While your data is encrypted (supposedly), VPNs vary in their policies regarding logging your web traffic. Many claim not to log your traffic, but that brings us to a little thing called trust.
While I’ll assume that you’re not doing anything that would get you arrested and you just want to protect yourself from private tracking, the above illustrates that a level of trust is involved when using a VPN.
I’ve seen lots of very inexpensive, or even free VPN services being marketed out there and I wanted to offer a quick word of advice when opting for free or inexpensive lifetime subscriptions to services, or at least a few things to consider.
Questions to ask yourself when looking at a free or inexpensive VPN:
- What happens when a VPN service goes out of business? Could the company sell your data?
2. How is the VPN monetizing? For lifetime subscription services, how do they intend to keep the cash flowing?
3. Does the VPN implant new ads in exchange for being free? What does this do to your internet speeds or privacy? Does this pose a conflict of interest?
4. How much will your internet speed suffer? This is a big consideration. If your speeds are cut in half, will you suffer through the loss in bandwidth, or just turn your VPN off?
I chose Private Internet Access (PIA), the largest VPN provider in the country.
After testing a few VPN services, I landed on PIA.
They’re the ones who recently took out that full-page ad in The New York Times calling out senators who voted for reducing our online privacy.
The first result was with PIA VPN, and the second result was without any VPN service enabled. Barely denting my speeds.
With PIA: 63.37 Down / 24.45 Up
Without PIA: 67.90 Down / 26.60 Up
Easy install / Built-in to your Operating System / Servers Everywhere
In response to the recent privacy laws being repealed, they’re doing some great promotions.
2 Years — $51.96 for 2 years when using code (DIGIWEEK15) through StackSocial — Seriously, that’s 14¢ a day…
Get it directly from PIA for $39.95/year or try it out for $6.95/month
Actually, I still just want a free VPN
Any other options?
Sooooo many, check out “which VPN should I use” or checkout That One Privacy Site
— Other Resources for Privacy —
Download Brave Browser
Brave is is the leader when it comes to built-in privacy features.
Since writing last week’s “Which VPN should I use” article, Brave has blocked over 1,500 trackers alone.
Block trackers on Chrome with the Ghostery Chrome extension
Get in the weeds with VPN options
If you really want to be overwhelmed with all the details on VPN services, including country of origin, encryption type, disclosures, logs, etc., etc., checkout this Google Sheet.
Go Big or Go Home
Purchase a Wi-fi router with custom firmware enabling VPN services directly on your router. With your router protected via VPN, there’s no need to install individual clients on each of your devices. The easiest (but not cheap) way to do with is at FlashRouters, which support PIA and many other VPN services.