Best Free VPN for 2024: Affordable Risk-Free Privacy (2024)

1. Free VPNs simply aren't as safe

Free VPNs can be very dangerous. Why? Because to maintain the hardware and expertise needed for large networks and secure users, VPN services have expensive bills to pay. As a VPN customer, you either pay for a premium VPN service with your dollars or you pay for free services with your data. If you aren't ordering at the table, you're on the menu.

Some 86% of free iOS and Android VPN apps -- accounting for millions of installs -- have unacceptable privacy policies, ranging from a simple lack of transparency to explicitly sharing user data with Chinese authorities, according to two independent 2018 investigations into free VPN apps from Top10VPN. Another 64% of free VPN app offerings had no web presence outside of their app store pages, and only 17% responded to customer support emails.

In June 2019, Apple reportedly brought the hammer down on apps that share user data with third parties. But 80% of the top 20 free VPN apps in Apple's App Store appear to be breaking those rules, according to a June update on the Top10VPN investigation.

In2021, 77% of apps were flagged as potentially unsafe in the Top10VPN VPN Ownership Investigation -- and 90% of those flagged as potentially unsafe in the Free VPN Risk Index -- still posed a risk.

"Google Play downloads of apps we flagged as potentially unsafe have soared to 214 million in total, rocketing by 85% in six months," the report reads. "Monthly installs from the App Store held steady at around 3.8 million, which represents a relative increase as this total was generated by 20% fewer apps than at the start of the year as a number of apps are no longer available."

On Android, 214 million downloads represent a lot of user login data, culled from unwitting volunteers. And what's one of the most profitable things one can do with large swaths of user login data?

2. You can catch malware

Let's get this out of the way right now: 38% of free Android VPNs contain malware -- despite the security features on offer, a CSIRO study found. And yes, many of those free VPNs were highly rated apps with millions of downloads. If you're a free user, your odds of catching a nasty bug are greater than 1 in 3.

So ask yourself which costs less: a secure VPN service for about $100 a year, or hiring an identity theft recovery firm after some chump steals your bank account login and Social Security number?

But it couldn't happen to you, right? Wrong. Mobile ransomware attacks are skyrocketing. Symantec detected more than 18 million mobile malware instances in 2018 alone, constituting a 54% year-over-year increase in variants. And in 2019, Kaspersky noted a 60% spike in password-stealing Trojans.

But malware isn't the only way to make money if you're running a free VPN service. There's an even easier way.

3. The ad-valanche

Aggressive advertising practices from a free plan can go beyond getting hit with a few annoying pop-ups and quickly veer into dangerous territory. Some VPNs sneak ad-serving trackers through the loopholes in your browser's media-reading features, which then stay on your digital trail like a prison warden in a B-grade remake of Escape from Alcatraz.

HotSpot Shield VPN earned some painful notoriety for such allegations in 2017, when it was hit with a Federal Trade Commission complaint(PDF) for over-the-top privacy violations in serving ads. Carnegie Mellon University researchers found the company not only had a baked-in backdoor used to secretly sell data to third-party advertising networks, but it also employed five different tracking libraries and actually redirected user traffic to secret servers.

When the story broke, HotSpot parent company AnchorFree denied the researchers' findings in an email to Ars Technica: "We never redirect our users' traffic to any third-party resources instead of the websites they intended to visit. The free version of our Hotspot Shield solution openly and clearly states that it is funded by ads, however, we intercept no traffic with neither the free nor the premium version of our solutions."

AnchorFree has since offered annual transparency reports, although their value is still up to the reader. More recently, however, HotSpot Shield was among just a handful of VPN apps found to respect users' refusal to permit ad-tracking. In a November 2021 study from Top10VPN, just 15% of free VPN apps respected iOS users' choices when they declined voluntary ad-tracking. The rest of the free VPN apps tested by Top10VPN simply ignored users' Do Not Track requests.

Even if possible credit card fraud isn't a concern, you don't need pop-ups and ad-lag weighing you down when you've already got to deal with another major problem with free VPNs.

4. Buffering... buffering... buffering

One of the top reasons people get a VPN is to access their favorite subscription services or streaming site -- Hulu, HBO, Netflix -- when they travel to countries where those companies block access based on your location. But what's the point in accessing the geo-blocked video content you've paid for if the free VPN service you're using is so slow you can't watch it, despite a good internet connection?

Some free VPNs have been known to sell your bandwidth, potentially putting you on the legal hook for whatever they do with it. The most famous case of this was HolaVPN, which was caught in 2015 quietly stealing users' bandwidth and selling it, mercenary-style, to whatever group wanted to deploy the user base as a botnet.

Back then, Hola CEO Ofer Vilenski admitted they'd been had by a "spammer" but contended in a lengthy defense that this harvesting of bandwidth was typical for this type of technology.

"We assumed that by stating that Hola is a [peer-to-peer] network, it was clear that people were sharing their bandwidth with the community network in return for their free service," he wrote.

If being pressed into service as part of a botnet isn't enough to slow you down, free VPN services also usually pay for fewer VPN server options. That means your traffic is generally bouncing around longer between distant, overcrowded servers, or even waiting behind the traffic of paid users.

To top it off, subscription streaming sites are savvy to those who try to sneak into their video services for free. These services routinely block large numbers of IP addresses they've identified as belonging to turnstile-jumping freeloaders. Free VPNs can't afford to invest in a long list of fresh IP addresses for users the way a paid VPN service can.

That means you may not even be able to log into a streaming service you've paid for if your free VPN is using a stale batch of IPs. Good luck getting HBO Max to load over that VPN connection.

5. Paid options get better all the time

The good news is that there are a lot of solid VPNs on the market that offer a range of features, depending on your needs and budget. You can browse our ratings and reviews to find the right VPN software for you. If you're looking for something mobile-specific, we've rounded up our favorite mobile VPNs for 2024.

If you'd like a primer before deciding which service to drop the cash on, we havea VPN buyer's guide to help you get a handle on the basics of VPNs and what to look for when choosing a VPN service.

Best Free VPN for 2024: Affordable Risk-Free Privacy (2024)

FAQs

Which VPN is the safest and free? ›

8 Best Free VPNs of 2024
  • Proton VPN: Best Free VPN for Enhanced Anonymity.
  • hide.me: Best Free VPN for Leak Protection.
  • FlyVPN: Best Free VPN for Gaming.
  • AtlasVPN: Best Free VPN for Security and Speed.
  • Windscribe: Best Free VPN for Unlimited Device Connection.
  • VPN Unlimited: Best Free VPN for Lifetime Protection.

What is the best completely free VPN? ›

The best free VPN services in 2024
  1. PrivadoVPN Free. The best free VPN—it even unblocks Netflix and iPlayer. ...
  2. Proton VPN Free. Unlimited data allowance and advocates for digital privacy. ...
  3. Windscribe Free. Powerful and secure with a generous data cap. ...
  4. Hide.me Free VPN. ...
  5. Hotspot Shield Basic VPN.
Apr 11, 2024

What is the best VPN in 2024? ›

The best VPNs in 2024
  • NordVPN. NordVPN excels in almost every area. ...
  • ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN is NordVPN's biggest rival, and is targeted at people who prefer their software to be secure, reliable, and very easy to use. ...
  • Surfshark. ...
  • Private Internet Access. ...
  • Proton VPN.
4 days ago

Is there a free VPN without limitations? ›

With Proton VPN Free, you can defeat censorship and access the internet privately. We operate a strict no-logs policy, and we'll never show you ads. Our unlimited free plan has no data or time limits, and will be free forever.

Which VPN is 100% free? ›

Proton VPN Free: Best 100% Free VPN Overall. Windscribe Free: Best Runner-up. PrivadoVPN Free: Best Free VPN for Streaming. Hotspot Shield Basic: Fastest Free VPN.

Can free VPN be trusted? ›

If you've ever tried to use a free VPN you've probably noticed it didn't work very well (more than two-thirds of free VPN users report performance issues). Free VPNs are highly ineffective at bypassing content restrictions, but they also often expose users to privacy and security risks they're meant to protect against.

What is the best free VPN that gives free data? ›

Best free internet VPNs compared
Data limitLogging policy
Proton VPNUnlimitedNo logs
NordVPNUnlimitedNo logs
SurfsharkUnlimitedNo logs
Norton VPNUnlimitedNo logs
1 more row
Mar 20, 2024

Why is there no good free VPN? ›

When it comes to exposure to malware, using a free VPN is also riskier than having no VPN at all. That's because some free VPNs may contain malware or adware, infecting your device and compromising your security. Of course, it's important to note that not all free VPN providers sell your data or expose you to malware.

Is there a 100% free VPN Hide Me? ›

Can I use hide.me VPN for free? Yes! We provide a top-notch free VPN service that's always free, with no trials, payments, or sign-ups required. Plus, Free users get the same security as our paid users, ensuring everyone enjoys the same level of security and anonymity.

Which VPN is most trusted? ›

What is the best VPN in 2024?
  • ExpressVPN holds CNET Editors' Choice Award for best overall VPN. ...
  • Surfshark is a great choice for folks seeking good features on a budget. ...
  • NordVPN is an excellent feature-packed VPN.
4 days ago

Which is better, NordVPN or ExpressVPN? ›

NordVPN's NordLynx protocol offers superior download speeds, making it the faster and better-performing option. While ExpressVPN outshines NordVPN in some server locations for upload speeds, overall, NordVPN emerges as the clear winner in the comparison of download and upload speeds.

Is Surfshark free? ›

Surfshark isn't free, but it offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. You can treat it as a free period to test out Surfshark. If you don't like the service, you can request a refund in the first 30 days, and you will be fully refunded.

Is there a truly free VPN? ›

Proton VPN is currently the best free VPN. The vast majority of free VPNs impose heavy restrictions on things like data allowance, usage time and connection speeds, making them practically useless for anything beyond the most negligible of online activities. Proton VPN imposes no such limitations on its free users.

Can a free VPN be hacked? ›

Like any software, all VPNs are technically capable of being hacked. No software is 100% perfect, and VPNs, like any internet-based software, can fall victim to different attacks.

Is there a 100% free VPN Proton VPN? ›

We believe privacy should be accessible to all, which is why we have a 100% free VPN with no catches. Our free VPN has allowed people around the world to bypass censorship and regain online freedom.

What is the safest VPN type? ›

OpenVPN is the most secure VPN protocol and the safest choice thanks to its near-unbreakable encryption, which keeps users' data private even when using public Wi-Fi. Because it's open source, users can check the source code for vulnerabilities and reassure themselves that there are no weaknesses in its security.

Is there a 100% free VPN for Chrome? ›

PaladinVPN is a 100% free unlimited VPN service! It has no time, bandwidth, speed, and location switching limit at all.

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