2018 marks the year that VPNs went mainstream, thanks to the ever-diminishing internet privacy. Currently, a global average of 26% of internet users use VPNs regularly to curb privacy and security invasions, and the number is forecasted to grow a lot more with the end of net neutrality and increasing content censorship.
Let’s face it, we all love free stuff. Free VPNs are hard to resist. Why pay when you can get one for free, right? Not quite.
What users ought to know is that there is no such thing as Free VPNs. Free VPN services are known for making money off unsuspecting users in a variety of sinister ways involving your personal data. The internet’s business model is gathering and selling user data. From Google to Facebook, most free internet-based services finance their operations this way. Free VPNs are no different. Here are prominent examples of questionable VPNs.
The internet is bursting with fake VPN services. Most of the scams executed through VPN services involve free VPNs. However, that’s not always the case. Some paid VPN services are just scammers trying to make quick bucks off unsuspecting customers. Take the case for of MySafeVPN, which, as it turns out, is a shady VPN service mining your data.
On top of suspicion of using stolen data to send emails to Plex and Boxee customers, it appears that MySafeVPN doesn’t have a clue on how to run a VPN. Their website is not secured with HTTPS hence not safe. Keep in mind that most paid VPNs actually route your data anonymously through servers in countries with stricter privacy laws.
With over 80 million users, Hola VPN is one of the most popular free VPNs out there. It’s also one of the first free VPNs to go mainstream. Hola has reportedly been injecting ads into users’ browsers. We are not just talking about generic ads here, reports indicate that the service uses your specific browser history to add targeted ads into your browsers. On top of that, the company turns user networks into botnets to sell their bandwidth.
Botnets are collections of internet-connected devices controlled by a third-party without the knowledge of the user. Once they are part of a botnet, the users’ internet bandwidth can be used as a dedicated server for routing internet traffic. By funnelling traffic through its users, Hola VPN is able to circumvent the cost of routing internet traffic through dedicated servers.
Hotspot Shield is one of the most popular free VPN services. In 2017, the Centre for Democracy and Technology filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission accusing the popular VPN service of collecting user data and intercepting internet traffic despite the fact that the company promises customers complete anonymity.
According to the privacy advocacy group, Hotspot Shield is involved in many unsavory practices which include displaying persistent cookies and working with advertising agencies. The CDT, with the help of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, established that the VPN service redirects e-commerce traffic to affiliate websites. According to the CDT, Hotspot Shield engages in unfair and deceptive trade practices and the FTC should investigate.
Facebook’s Onavo Protect VPN
Onavo Protect is a new VPN service by Facebook. Like other VPN services, Onavo Protect gives users an additional layer of security and it’s quite effective at it. The problem is that Facebook’s new VPN, unlike other VPNs, comes with explicit permission to mine user data hidden under a ‘Read More’ link.
According to the company, collecting user data is part of the process. Facebook claims that analyzing your data, apps, and websites, they are able to improve and operate the Onavo service. VPNs are supposed to improve internet privacy, it’s in the name. However, services such as Facebook’s Onavo protect want to collect your data which defeats the purpose of using a VPN.