Keeping your data safe is of utmost importance. One of the best tools available to protect your online activity is a virtual private network (VPN). These essential privacy protectors make sure that those with malicious intent can’t intercept your online activity. However, they’re also an investment. Most of the top recommended VPNs require that you pay a subscription fee to get the protection you need.

There are several free VPNs out there, and they can be tempting to use. After all, why pay for something that you can get for free? There’s a reason that there’s a saying about nothing being truly free, and that holds true for free VPNs as well. Let’s look closer at free VPNs, what they offer, and why they often aren’t recommended when you need true protection online.

Key Takeaways

  • Most VPNs require you to pay for the service because VPNs work by providing you with a secure server that you connect to with an encrypted connection to keep your data protected while you browse online.
  • One of the most common restrictions for free VPNs is a data limit that creates a cap on the amount of data that the service allows you to transfer through its encrypted connection.
  • Before using any free VPN, check to make sure that the service has a “no-logs policy” which means the provider won’t store any data from your use of their service because they are likely to collect and sell your data, undermine your security and protection otherwise.

Is the Free Version Truly Secure?

Most VPNs require you to pay for the service. This is because VPNs work by providing you with a secure server that you connect to with an encrypted connection to keep your data protected while you browse online. Those servers cost money to operate and paying a subscription fee helps to cover those costs.

More importantly, a truly secure VPN needs to charge you for its service because it cannot monetize your data the way that other products and services can. You’ve heard the phrase, “if you aren’t paying for the product, then you’re the product.” This is the model of many online services that collect and sell your data. However, a secure VPN shouldn’t keep a record of your data and cannot sell your information.

free site access lockdown
Site: ExpressVPN

When you see a free VPN, you should immediately question why you don’t have to pay anything. In the past, there have been scandals involving free VPNs when it was discovered that they were collecting and selling user data — a major red flag for any privacy tool.

In other cases, the free version of a VPN likely has some significant shortcomings or restrictions. Often, these products have limitations like data caps, speed restrictions, or a limited number of servers that are available.

While this can be fine in a pinch, it isn’t considered secure over the long term. At some point, those limitations will come back to hurt you. Perhaps it’s by failing to obscure your true identity or internet protocol (IP) address or by having data leakage when your free time or bandwidth runs out. As a general rule, you shouldn’t trust a free VPN to keep you secure overall.

What Are the Data Allowances for VPNs?

One of the most common restrictions for free VPNs is a data limit. This creates a cap on the amount of data that the service allows you to transfer through its encrypted connection. This is fine if you just need to send a couple of quick messages or files in a secure manner ― as long as the VPN promises and follows through on not logging your activity ― but creates some major shortcomings.

A data limit makes it next to impossible to stream content on a free VPN. Because some people like to use VPNs to get around geolocation restrictions that limit the content that you can access based on your location. If your favorite show is available on the United Kingdom version of Netflix, a VPN can let you spoof your location and access it. Free VPNs don’t offer enough bandwidth to watch more than an episode or two.

This is more than just a problem of streaming, though. To get the most out of a VPN, you want to be able to use it continuously. You don’t want to have to turn it on and off all the time, but rather keep its protection active. Free VPNs make you choose when you use it to stay under the data cap. This inherently makes you less secure.

What’s Their Secure Speed?

Another common restriction for a free VPN is a cap on your data speeds. It isn’t uncommon for a VPN to offer a slightly slower internet connection than you might have when connected directly to your wireless network, but most VPNs do attempt to maintain and optimize speeds so that you don’t experience much of a slowdown even when you’re connected to a secure server.

bandwidth throttling
Source: NordVPN

Free VPNs can often encumber your access to the internet by capping your data speeds. You probably know what it’s like when your mobile carrier slows you down when you exceed your data limit. That’s what it’s like to use a free VPN. This makes simple tasks more time-consuming.

Forget about streaming entirely. Sending files and documents becomes much more challenging and can sometimes fail because your connection times out. These restrictions are at best an inconvenience but, at worst, they make things more difficult and make you less safe.

When to Use a Free VPN

Typically, you want to avoid using a free VPN. However, there are some occasions in which a free VPN can do the job for you. If you need to protect yourself quickly while you’re connected to a private Wi-Fi connection, a free VPN’s bandwidth or speed limitations may be fine and allow you to complete your task in a secure manner.

It’s also typically fine to use a free trial of a legitimate VPN service. Trials may have some restrictions, but most VPN providers are hoping to convert you to a paid customer and want you to experience what their service has to offer. Free trials of VPNs offer you the kind of protection that paid VPNs provide — make sure you cancel if you don’t want to start paying for it.

what is vpn
Source: Surfshark

Before using any free VPN, check to make sure that the service has a “no-logs policy.” This means that the provider won’t store any data from your use of their service. This is of utmost importance. A free VPN without a no-logs policy is likely collecting and selling your data, undermining your security and protection.

What Are the Downsides to a Free VPN?

While free may seem like the ultimate convenience, there’s always a cost — even if it isn’t paid in cash. Many free VPNs have restrictions that make them limited in use and purpose. A bandwidth cap can make it difficult to stream or share large files, restricting your ability to use the VPN for work. Speed restrictions can hamper your ability to connect and communicate, slowing your activity dramatically. Free VPNs that track your activity to sell ads put your privacy at risk and don’t offer you the protection that you need or expect from a VPN.

Free VPNs, or free trials of paid VPNs, can work in a pinch. But you shouldn’t rely on them and you shouldn’t trust them to protect you the way that you would expect from a VPN that you pay for. If you need the protection of a VPN, you should find one that you feel comfortable paying for. Your security is of utmost importance, and the only way that you can ensure that you stay protected is by paying for that protection. Find an affordable VPN that does the job for you without breaking the bank.