Plenty of free VPNs are still available on the Apple App Store, despite an investigative report from earlier this year revealing that many of them are potential risks to user privacy and security. Additionally, more and more people appear to be actually downloading these dangerous VPNs. Here’s what you need to know about risky free VPNs and why to avoid them.
Risks of Free VPNs
While VPNs normally protect your online privacy and security, a sketchy VPN may do just the opposite. Because of the need to make money from their services, many free VPNs actually log, track and sell your data to third parties. That essentially defeats the entire purpose of a VPN.
Some shady VPNs have even taken advantage of their users by turning their connections into endpoints. If someone else on one of these services does something illegal, it could be traced back to you.
VPNs located in security weak spots, like Russia or China, come with their own set of problems.
China, for example, is censorious and maintains massive amounts of control over internet traffic within its borders. And if a VPN is based in China, there’s an added threat of government surveillance — whether you live in the country or not.
Worryingly, privacy and security researcher Simon Migliano of Top10VPN found that a large number of free VPNs on the iOS App Store and Google Play Store were either based in China or secretly owned by Chinese companies. All of this is despite the fact that Apple maintains pretty stringent control over the App Store.
Free VPNs and App Marketplaces
While the privacy and security risks of free VPNs may turn many users away, the data shows that there’s still a thriving market for them.
Migliano’s research, while he compiled into an investigative report earlier this year, went largely ignored by Apple and Google. And according to an August update to the report, the problem may actually be getting worse.
Recently, for example, Migliano tracked 3.8 million monthly installations of risky free VPNs on the iOS App Store alone.
That’s about the same installation rate that Migliano tracked earlier this year. Since the actual number of free VPNs available on the App Store has dropped, it suggests that more people are downloading the ones that are left.
Again, Migliano has reportedly alerted both Apple and Google to the risks of these free VPNs. As of the writing of this article, most of them remain available today.
Despite the fact that many VPNs are risky, using a VPN is still a good idea. And there are plenty of high-quality and privacy-respecting services out there. If you are able to spend some money on a VPN, then you’ll have a few fantastic options with excellent privacy policies. Here are our top picks.
If you have a limited budget, we recommend opting for a paid VPN that offers a free tier. These typically have good privacy policies, though the free tiers often come with data, speed or server restrictions. Here are a few respectable VPNs that offer free tiers.