Why You Shouldn't Use a Free VPN (2024)

If you're looking for a way to boost the security and privacy of your online activities, you might be thinking about using a VPN.

VPNs, or virtual private networks, are designed to do just that. Agood VPNroutes your internet traffic through a secure server, which hides your IP address, encrypts your traffic and keeps your personal data away from prying eyes.

Those capabilities have made the software popular with everyone from human rights activists to regular people just looking to stream blacked-out sporting events or other TV programs.

There are countless VPN options out there ready for download, including some you don't need to pay for, but experts you really need to think before installing anything that's being given away free of charge, as well as educate yourself about the possible risks that come with them.

In this story, we'll cover the potential pitfalls you face when using a free VPN, including slower speeds and your data being collected and sold, and we'll also show you why there is one free option that you should consider.

If you want to learn more about VPNs, check out our review of ExpressVPN, our Editors' Choice for Best VPN, and how Express stacks up against NordVPN.

ProtonVPN is a free and open-source VPN that is fast and secure, offers an unlimited free plan and doesn't have advertisem*nts. For only $5 a month, you can get ProtonVPN Plus, which is quicker, gives you access to more servers in more countries and allows you to connect to up to 10 devices at a time.

Details

Limited features

Free VPNs typically offer a basic set of features that may not be sufficient to meet your privacy and security needs. They often lack advanced features, such as split tunneling, which splits your internet traffic and sends some of it through your VPN and the rest through an open network, and the ability to bypass geo-restrictions for streaming, in case you want to route your traffic through another country. These limitations can significantly affect your online experience and may not provide the level of protection you're looking for.

Weak encryption

One of the primary reasons for using a VPN is to benefit from the strong encryption protocols that keep your data secure. However, many free VPNs employ weak or outdated encryption protocols like PPTP, which can leave you vulnerable to cyber threats, data theft and more.

Data caps

Free VPNs typically impose limits, restricting the amount of data you can transfer through their service. If you're a heavy user -- watching high-quality videos, for example, or streaming games -- this can be particularly problematic. You may reach the data cap quicker than you like, and you won't be able to fully use the VPN until the data cycle starts over, which is usually every month.

Slow speeds

When a VPN is free, you'll be sure to find users flocking to use the service. That can lead to servers being overcrowded, which slows down connection speeds and ends up in high latency and frequent buffering. This will have a major impact on your browsing, streaming and gaming experiences. Although all VPNs will slow your speeds somewhat, the dip in speeds will be largely unnoticeable if you use a fast VPN.

Limited server options

This may not sound like a major issue at first, but having fewer servers to choose from can cause a free VPN to struggle to provide you with a reliable and fast connection. That also makes it more difficult for you to access geo-restricted content.

Data collection

Many free VPNs generate revenue by collecting and selling your browsing data to third parties, which weirdly defeats the purpose of using a VPN to protect your privacy. Data collection like this can result in targeted ads, privacy breaches and even identity theft, and that isn't worth using the free VPN.

Ads and pop-ups

Aside from your data, free VPNs rely on advertisem*nts to make money. As a result, you may be bombarded with intrusive ads and pop-ups while using the service, which can be pretty annoying.

Malware

Some of the more unknown and less reputable free VPNs could have malware hidden in their software, posing a risk to your device and personal data. If you download a potentially malicious VPN, you're compromising your security and making yourself susceptible to hacking or data theft.

However, there is one free option you should consider

Developed by the same team behind encrypted email service ProtonMail, ProtonVPN offers a free plan that doesn't have data caps, impose speed limits or shove advertisem*nts in your face. It does have limitations, like limited servers and support for only a single device, but ProtonVPN does provide the strong encryption you may be looking for to prevent your ISP from tracking your browsing -- without spending money. It's the only free VPN that CNET endorses using because it's the only one that avoids all the problems we've mentioned.

Check out our review of ProtonVPN.

Why You Shouldn't Use a Free VPN (2024)

FAQs

Why shouldn't I use a free VPN? ›

Some of the more unknown and less reputable free VPNs could have malware hidden in their software, posing a risk to your device and personal data. If you download a potentially malicious VPN, you're compromising your security and making yourself susceptible to hacking or data theft.

Can a free VPN be trusted? ›

While using a free VPN may seem like a cost-effective solution, it can expose you to a higher risk of malware. If you want to protect your device and data from potential attacks, use a paid VPN, like Surfshark, with the necessary resources, expertise, and robust security measures.

Is a free VPN better than nothing? ›

Are free VPN services worth the cost? Nope. Even if you're OK with paying with your data, you wouldn't be getting the best service. Because when it comes to choosing a VPN service, both the number and the quality of servers matter.

What are the effects of free VPN? ›

Free VPNs slow down users' internet speed: Similar to the data-limiting issue above, free VPNs may provide slower internet speeds than premium tools. Even free VPN options from reputable vendors will provide a slower internet connection than available through their paid-for options.

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.

Are free VPNs illegal? ›

In most countries, using a VPN is legal. VPNs are legitimate tools designed to encrypt internet traffic. As such, there are generally no laws prohibiting the use of VPNs for personal or business purposes.

Are free VPNs sketchy? ›

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.

Can you be tracked with a free VPN? ›

A VPN can't prevent tracking using cookies, fingerprinting, and other similar techniques, but they're not as invasive to your privacy as tracking you by your IP address and are much less reliable as a means of identifying you.

Is there a truly free VPN? ›

ProtonVPN. Proton VPN's free tier is the only truly free VPN we've encountered that's worth using. True, it lacks support for torrenting, you can't manually select a server, and it doesn't include all the bells and whistles as its paid subscriptions.

Is there a downside to always using a VPN? ›

Slower connection

The encryption process and routing your traffic through remote servers can slow down your internet connection. However, premium VPN services usually have fast protocols and a powerful infrastructure that make the speed drop barely noticeable.

Is it better to get a free VPN or paid? ›

Free versions of premium VPNs are typically safe to use and often provide enough bandwidth and functionality for home users. Paid VPNs provide better speed and performance, as well as additional security features that make them worthwhile for privacy-minded individuals and organizations alike.

Should I download a free VPN? ›

Free VPNs are a convenient way of improving your online privacy without spending a penny. However, the quality varies widely – only a select few are worth actually downloading, while many should be actively avoided.

Is there a downside to using a VPN? ›

Slower connection

The encryption process and routing your traffic through remote servers can slow down your internet connection. However, premium VPN services usually have fast protocols and a powerful infrastructure that make the speed drop barely noticeable.

Why you shouldn't use VPN all the time? ›

While people sometimes use VPNs to bypass geo restrictions or for malicious deeds, some websites block access if a user's VPN is on. In such cases, disabling a VPN might be necessary. Avoiding software conflicts. Some applications or services, such as online games or streaming services, may clash with a VPN.

Why is VPN not safe? ›

It can't prevent cookie tracking, viruses, or malware, and it can't protect against phishing scams. Data leaks could occur. But most pivotally, a VPN is only as secure as the company that runs it. A VPN provider that uses out-of-date protocols, leaks IPs, and logs your data isn't one you can trust.

Is it safe to use VPN on free Wi-Fi? ›

Yes, a VPN protects your internet traffic on public Wi-Fi. If anyone were to try and snoop on your web traffic or access your device on unsecured networks, they would need to break through a layer of encryption. That's why we always recommend a VPN for those who like to frequently use public Wi-Fi.

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