EXCLUSIVE: Free VPNs are on the rise, but so are their privacy risks

EXCLUSIVE: Free VPNs are on the rise, but so are their privacy risks

With the cost of living on the rise and the global economic downturn looming, it's no surprise that people are looking to save as much money as possible. This is probably why free VPNs have seen a resurgence in popularity lately.

An exclusive TechRadar Pro survey conducted by OnePulse (opens in a new tab) shows that a growing number of VPN users are actively looking to switch from paid subscriptions to free alternatives.

While in the UK around 47% of respondents have replaced their premium services with a free equivalent, around 60% of those living in the US now appear to be opting for a free ticket.

This is concerning because free VPNs have repeatedly made headlines for failing to protect user data. Bean VPN is just the latest service found guilty of leaking recordings of millions of users.

While the demand for the best VPN services that offer paid plans seems to be on the decline, the risks to your privacy are increasing like never before. Here, everything you need to know.

Statistics of people switching to free VPNs in a column chart

(Image credit: future)

The risks of free VPN services

While not paying for a VPN subscription sounds tempting, you should be aware that it may come at a higher cost to your privacy.

The most obvious problem is that, in order to make a profit, many free services must rely on advertising to generate revenue and keep the software running. As revealed by an analysis of 283 Android apps (Opens in a new tab), 72% of free services included at least one third-party tracking library compared to just 35% of premium versions.

Ads that appear on your screen not only interrupt your online experience but also collect and share some of your personal information. And that's probably what you're trying to avoid by using security software. Furthermore, they might even end up infecting your device with malware or viruses.

As the Bean VPN case once again confirmed, free services are often not built to the same security protection standards as paid versions. This means that user databases are more vulnerable to attack.

Hacked data on screen

(Image credit: Image Library)

Also, the ownership behind these services may be a cause for concern. A Top10VPN survey (opens in a new tab) of the 30 most popular apps on Google Play found that 59% of these VPNs had hidden Chinese ownership. It's quite unsettling if you think that the Great Wall of China is actually famous for its intrusive internet restrictions, increasing online censorship, and strict VPN bans.

Apart from privacy, free VPNs often have trouble unblocking different catalogs on streaming platforms and also achieving faster connection speeds. If you are looking for a reliable streaming VPN, then you should go for a premium version.

The best free VPNs right now

In general, if you are concerned about your privacy, you should just avoid free VPN apps. However, there are some premium programs that offer a secure version without the need to get your hands on the wallet.

Our #1 recommendation at the moment, Swiss-based Proton VPN offers a reliable free plan that can be very helpful for those looking to upgrade to a free subscription. Although it has some limitations, for example, it can't safely unblock foreign streaming catalogs or torrents, it offers unlimited data bandwidth, three secure servers, and some unusual security features for a freebie, like split tunneling and data leak protection. DNS.

Proton VPN used on a smartphone

(Image credit: Proton VPN) (Opens in a new tab)

If you are looking for a good VPN for torrenting, PrivateVPN offers servers that support P2P sharing. It might also work with some streaming platforms. Despite the data limit, 10 GB per month may be more than enough for most people.

Windscribe, TunnelBear, Hotspot Shield, and Hide.me are other good premium VPNs with free plans.

If you're looking for more flexibility, you may want to consider a premium provider that offers risk-free testing. All of our best VPN services offer a 30- or 45-day money-back guarantee. Although you will have to invest some money up front, you will be refunded if you decide to cancel your subscription before the time is up.

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