More and more people are using Virtual Private Networks or VPNs today, and its popularity is growing very fast. About a quarter of internet users across the world use VPNs. Since it is the best way to preserve the privacy of users as they can surf the internet without disclosing their IP address the attraction is always very high especially in places where there are controls and censorship on internet usage. In regions where the attempts to restrict the internet is higher, the use of VPN is higher too. Against the global average of 26% internet users depending on VPN, the number of internet users in the Asia Pacific region is 30%. The more are the attempts to stifle the freedom of the internet; growing is the demand for VPN from all parts of the world.
Recently, the US Congress passed a law that allows ISPs to trade on user data by way of selling and sharing data without the user’s permission. Soon there was a sharp increase in the demand for using VPN services because protecting privacy is always the most critical consideration for internet users. Add to this the aspect of repealing net neutrality, the Australian legislation for retaining metadata and many other similar policies introduced at various places that have multiplied the number of VPN users so much that it has touched the all-time high figure today.
Internet censorship is encouraging VPN use
Data available from various sources corroborate the fact that the number of VPN users has increased at a record rate. Hot Shield which is perhaps the biggest VPN service provider has admitted that its VPN software which arguably many consider as the best VPN software has experienced 600 million downloads. In 2017 alone, 100 million users downloaded the software. Interestingly, the demand grew manifold whenever any incident that threatened to curb the freedom of internet users happened. There was a sharp increase in the number of downloads when the US Congress passed the legislation allowing ISPs to sell user data, when the announcement of repealing the net neutrality was made and when the Equifax hack happened. Similar increase use of VPN occurred when Australia passed the scheme for metadata retention. The incident increased VPN usage by 470% in Australia.
High demand for free VPN service
All these incidents point to the fact that for internet users maintaining anonymity during surfing the web is an uncompromising agenda. As internet censorship is growing around the world, it is normal to expect that more and more people will start using VPNs. Although most VPNs are paid services, there are free services too, and it is likely that these would be the most attractive choice for users who consider that since privacy is a fundamental human right, why to pay for it when you are getting it free.
The maximum censorship happens in countries in Africa and the Asia Pacific region which are economically backward. Since people in these regions are unable to bear the cost of paid VPN services that entail monthly subscriptions, it is natural that the free service is most attractive for them. VPN services like Hot Shield, renowned for its free VPN services are going to enjoy the highest popularity.
Is free VPN free?
The million dollar question about free VPN services is that is the service free in the real sense of the term as it appears on the surface or is there any hidden cost that subscribers have to pay? As an extension of the question, you may also wonder how far it is feasible for VPN service providers to offer free service knowing that they have to incur substantial costs on many accounts for maintaining the facilities.
Costs incurred in providing VPN services
From server costs to maintaining security protocols and giving bandwidth to subscribers, there is some massive cost bearing elements for providing VPN services.
- Server – Servers are at the heart of VPN services that ensure anonymity and privacy of users and maintaining servers is quite costly. The cost of servers increases with the number of users, and it is not possible to make charity by offering free services without compromising on quality. Another fear arising from free VPN services is that it is likely to face more abuse. In case of paid services, the service provider can tackle abuse effectively by changing servers or limiting the usage of servers. That is not possible for free services.
- Bandwidth – Bandwidth costs money and is it possible to offer it for free? Apparently, it cannot happen because it is too good to be true, but taking into consideration that some VPN service providers offer it free, there is enough reason to suspect there is some catch to it.
- Security protocols – Providing a high level of security to VPN networks costs some good money, and it is evident that the free VPN services have poor security protocols that expose users to various risks in protecting privacy and maintaining anonymity.
Since free VPN services are a reality and there is a big subscriber base for it, let us look at the threats that subscribers have to face when using free VPN.
Free VPN services are data farms in disguise
Now let us look at the price that free VPN users have to pay, albeit unknowingly. There are accusations against many leading VPN service providers that offer free VPN service that they engage in many shady practices including trading of user data and sharing it without user consent. There are charges of redirecting user traffic to their affiliates and transmitting user data over unsecured connections against companies like Hot Shield. Another free VPN service provider Hola sells the bandwidth of free VPN users through one of its sister concerns. Some others like Betternet provide access to advertisers for user data.
When you get anything free that is too good to believe be ready to pay the price for it in some other way that can cause a lot of harm to you and it is no different for free VPN.