Free VPNs are the Wild West of the Internet. When a user logs in to a VPN, not only do they have to trust the VPN to keep their browsing and logging activity private, they also have to trust that no one can collect or share that information. With the rise of the Internet, that trust has been broken.
There is a lot of confusion about the various VPN providers out there. Some are completely free and some give you a trial. However, like most things in the world of internet, there are only two ways that an online service can make money – either they can get you to pay more for their service or they can get advertising money from you.
VPNs have become an extremely useful tool for many internet privacy enthusiasts. Many internet users like to use free VPN services because they are simple, easy to use and, most importantly, free. However, what many VPN users forget is that running a VPN service costs money. While paid VPNs are funded by subscriptions, free VPNs have to make money through different methods. So how do free VPNs make money? Here are 5 scary facts you need to know about free VPNs.
How free VPNs make money
1. Sale of user information
We start the list with what might be the scariest thing VPNs do to make money off their users: They sell the information and data their customers provide to them. This is arguably one of the most dangerous things a free VPN can do, as it directly compromises the privacy of its customers and exposes users to potential security breaches.
So how and where can a free VPN service sell your data? Judging by the records of some VPNs that have been caught, there are several ways VPNs do this. It’s simple: They mine the data from the user’s device and create separate files for each person. The amount of data and personal information they can extract from the device is truly alarming.
Whether it’s information about your device, location data, personal information, emails, messages, phone numbers or anything else stored on your device. Some VPNs can even take complete control of their users’ devices and grant them full and unrestricted access, including the ability to edit, modify and even delete media files on the controlled device.
In some cases, VPNs sell their users’ email addresses to third-party companies. This is a big problem for you as a user, because not only will you receive a lot of spam and junk mail, but you will also never know how many people and companies have your email address. Ransomware, cryptojacking and phishing emails are just some of the potential consequences of poor VPN behavior.
2. Marketing on the basis of personal information
In line with the first point we discussed, openly sharing data for marketing purposes is another very dangerous practice that some free VPNs allow themselves. The reason, of course, is quite obvious. Since they don’t make money from user subscriptions, they offset their losses by making money in other ways. There are several ways for a VPN to pass on customer data for marketing purposes.
The first is that they use your data and information directly for marketing and advertising purposes. This means that every time you log in or search the web for something you’re interested in, the VPN stores and uses this information to determine what ads to sell you and how to do it most effectively. The second way is that they openly share this data with external companies and their partners. This is the more dangerous of the two options, as the VPN and the marketing company are essentially combined into one platform and both have complete control over your data. This is very dangerous because the marketing company often links to ads from sites and pages that are not reliable sources. These ads are not only annoying, but can also lead you to malicious websites.
There are many such examples, but none compare to Betternet, a free VPN service that publicly and openly claims to be an Internet marketing company. They don’t hide the fact that their business model is based on advertising. However, they don’t reveal too many details about their location, company information and important behind-the-scenes details about how this ad-based business model works.
The only advantage of this problem is that it is a very good way to judge the reliability of a free VPN. In other words: If you notice your VPN aggressively bombarding you with ads, it’s a clear sign that it’s probably sharing your personal information and activities with third-party websites.
3. Exploitation of free users for the benefit of paying users
In addition to selling your personal information to third parties, free VPNs can exploit your trust in a number of ways, the most notable of which is exploiting their paying customers. This problem occurs when a VPN is operated simultaneously as a free service and as a paid service. This is because the VPN operates on two completely different levels. They give you, the free user, unconditional access to the Internet, but at the same time they abuse your connection in various ways.
The best examples of this unfair technique are VPNs that take advantage of the computing power of free users and pass it on to their paying customers. In effect, this means the VPN is selling your bandwidth to other users to make a profit. Of course, you can avoid this by choosing a paid subscription if the VPN offers it. The only catch is that some VPNs do not share this information with their free users. This means you have no way of knowing if your device and connection are being used to benefit someone else.
4. Establishment of botnets and exit nodes
If the previous VPN tactics weren’t intimidating enough already, these tactics have real consequences that can get you in big trouble with the law. While some VPN users may not have a problem with this type of service exchange, it could actually cause them major headaches in the future. Being an origin server node means that all traffic destined for the destination server is mapped as if it came from that server’s IP address.
This can get you into a lot of trouble because the traffic that goes through there can contain all kinds of illegal activities, searches and browsing histories. The risk really isn’t worth it, especially when you consider that you’re taking on full responsibility without receiving any compensation, while the VPN service makes money from all its paying members who use your connection and IP address as an exit node.
We know that innocent people have been targeted by the government for committing illegal acts on the Internet. This all happened because the VPN they thought was free was actually using their network and IP address to create a botnet that allowed other users to connect to their IP address. In addition, the hackers were able to take control of all free accounts on the VPN network and build a large botnet that they could use for anonymous malware attacks. While this all sounds like the plot of a thriller movie, this is a real incident that happened to Hola VPN users.
Although the Hola VPN scandal was a major event that helped bring attention to the dangers of using free VPNs, there are still free VPNs out there. The scariest part of all this is that there are currently no procedures or measures in place to monitor how these VPNs use their users’ trust.
5. Tracking user actions
Finally, the offense that free VPNs commit and that many of their users (unknowingly) accept is tracking their users’ online activities. Many VPNs store connection logs. This is mainly to ensure the proper functioning of their services and to guarantee the security and encryption of the networks. However, logs can also be used to find out the habits and interests of a particular user.
They do this in different ways. This is usually done by placing cookies in the browser. These tools can track all of your online activities, and most of the time you’re not even aware of it. Web beacons and tracking pixels are two other ways we track your online activities. Web beacons, also known as web beacons, are more common than you might think. These are identifiable files with unique images that are used to track your online activities. Tracking pixels work in the same way as web beacons, but look different. They are more suited to data analysis and online tracking of user behavior. Not only do VPNs use these tools to track your activities, but in some cases they allow their business partners to do so as well.
So while you may think you are anonymous and private when using VPN services, in reality your online activities are constantly being monitored. Most VPNs won’t admit it, but they collect your information and all your activity data and store it, usually for the highest bidder. Unlike free VPNs, paid VPNs usually mention everything in their privacy policies. This means that when you pay for the service, you can verify that you are getting what you were promised.
Using a VPN that tracks your online activities defeats the purpose of using a VPN. Instead of your ISP being able to track your activities, you are giving this ability to a free VPN, which is very dangerous because you can never know if his intentions are good or bad. If a free VPN is based in one of these 14 countries, it also means that it is required to share any information requested by the government of the country where it is based. This is a risky position because, again, you are the only one responsible if something goes wrong.
Why do free VPNs use these tactics?
For some VPNs, making money comes before user safety and privacy. Selling user data, using it for advertising purposes, or violating security and privacy are just some of the ways free VPNs make money. But before we get into the details, it is important to talk about all the important aspects and understand why some free VPNs abuse the trust of their customers. Here are the main reasons why they do:
High operating costs
As we said at the beginning, it’s easy to forget that running a VPN costs money. Depending on the size of the VRS customer base, monthly maintenance costs can easily reach tens of thousands of dollars. Not to mention that with the growth of VPNs and the need for more stable and powerful servers, these costs can add up to hundreds of thousands, even millions. For this reason, server costs are probably the main reason why most free VPNs work behind their customers’ backs.
Of course, being in the dark is not as good as making money. For this reason, some VPNs decide to go further and use their customers’ data in a way that allows them to make more money. This usually involves selling or sharing data with third parties or creating highly targeted ads that bring advertisers more revenue.
While some people may argue that the first reason is justified, and even the second, no one can justify acts that are pure greed. When you have the sensitive data of tens or even hundreds of millions of users at your disposal, it becomes very tempting to exploit all that knowledge and potential. Many popular free VPNs have succumbed to this phenomenon: Hola, Betternet and even Opera VPN were shut down for a while as they tried to monetize their users’ data.
Why you should choose a paid VPN service
Free VPN services are not comparable to those with a price. They offer a level of security and privacy that simply cannot be matched by a free VPN. With large budgets and well-defined business models, paid VPNs simply offer services that free VPNs cannot compete with. The benefits of using a paid VPN are as follows:
- Better connection speeds – Free VPNs often limit the internet speed of their free users in favor of their paying customers. With a paid VPN service, you can enjoy improved access speeds and even take advantage of your provider’s bandwidth limitations. Connections are much less frequent, and you won’t suffer from the problems that lower quality VPNs do.
- Clear privacy policies – As we said before, free VPNs are often secretive and not very honest when it comes to sharing their business model with their free customers. When you pay for a VPN, you know what you’re getting and how much privacy you have when you connect to the VPN server.
- Diversity of servers – The number of servers goes hand in hand with the speed of the internet. The more VPN servers there are, the less they are overloaded, which means a faster connection. Even if you use a VPN to access geo-restricted or blocked content from another part of the world, you can just connect to the server closest to where you need it and enjoy unlimited access wherever you are.
- Security – Paid VPNs can come with a number of additional features. These include different encryption protocols, special features like a kill switch, more efficient and stronger encryption. If you are paying for a VPN service, you should not settle for anything less than the standard 256-bit encryption.
- Customer support – like all of the above benefits, good support comes at a price. This does not mean that you should overpay for a VPN service. This means that if you have a problem with a VPN, you can count on someone to be there to help you when you need it.
Top 3 Premium VPN
However, keep in mind that not all paid VPNs are good or have drawbacks. It is always best to do some research before choosing a VPN. To help you choose the right VPN for you, we present the 3 best premium VPNs currently available.
ExpressVPN is widely known as the best all-in-one VPN. Sure, it costs a little more than the competition, but the benefits you get in return more than make up for that. ExpressVPN is probably the most convenient VPN available today, as it’s easy to set up and available on any device. They have a pretty impressive server network of over 3,000 high-speed servers in 94 countries and 160 locations. When it comes to high speed, ExpressVPN’s is one of the best in the world as you are assured of maximum efficiency when connecting to any of their servers. On a 100 Mbps network, you can expect speeds of 80 to 85 Mbps.
- Fastest speeds among all other VPN providers
- No magazines.
- OpenVPN, IPSec and IKEv2
- Torrent / P2P allowed
- Unlocks Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer
- 24×7 chat support
- 30 days money back guarantee
Read my review of ExpressVPN
Check out the prices for ExpressVPN
Ranked second, IPVanish is ideal for people who frequently download files and content from the Internet. It offers good and stable download speeds, unlimited bandwidth and unlimited P2P traffic. With servers in over 75 locations worldwide, absolutely no traffic logs, and unlimited simultaneous connections/devices, IPVanish is a truly convenient VPN. While the interface is not as easy to use as ExpressVPN’s, it offers many customization options that are sure to impress experienced VPN users looking for a new VPN.
- Good speeds
- No magazines.
- AES-256 encryption
- P2P allowed
- 30 days money back guarantee
Read my review of IPVanish
See pricing for IPVanish
3. North VPN
If you are looking for the best combination of quality and quantity, NordVPN is for you. With the lowest membership price and a 30-day risk-free guarantee, NordVPN is a risk-free option for any privacy enthusiast on a tight budget. Besides its low price, NordVPN has great potential. With over 5,200 servers in 62 countries around the world, they offer the largest server network of any VPN. With military-grade double encryption and no recording, this is the ideal solution for viewing, streaming and downloading content.
- Good speeds
- No magazines.
- OpenVPN, IPSec and IKEv2
- P2P allowed
- Unlocking Netflix
- 30 days money back guarantee
Check out NordVPN pricing
While the internet can sometimes be a scary place, you can enjoy unrestricted and secure access with a few extra steps, and it all starts with purchasing a reliable VPN. If you really value your privacy and security online, don’t settle for a free VPN service. There are many options, starting at a few dollars a month. We end with a suggestion that you should always keep in mind, and not just when using the Internet. Everything has a price, and if you don’t pay a price for a service, that usually means you’re a commodity.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How do free VPNs make money?
Free VPNs make money by selling your data to advertisers. What are the risks of using a free VPN? Free VPNs can be used to access blocked websites, but they also collect your data and sell it to advertisers.
Why Free VPNs are bad?
Free VPNs are bad because they are not secure. They do not have the resources to invest in security, so they often use weak encryption and leak your data. They also have a lot of ads, which can be annoying. What is the difference between a VPN and proxy? A VPN encrypts your data and routes it through their servers, while a proxy just hides your IP address.
Is it dangerous to use free VPN?
No, it is not dangerous to use free VPN.
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