Should I Use a Free VPN?

VPNs are one of the best ways to change your IP address and protect your privacy online. However, paying for a VPN can get expensive. Some users consider turning to free VPNs rather than traditional VPN services to avoid paying a fee. But is it safe to use a free VPN? In this article, we’ll go over how a free VPN works, the benefits and risks of using one, and assess whether or not they’re safe for use.

What is a free VPN?

A VPN, or virtual private network, is one of the best ways to protect your privacy online. VPNs create private networks from public Internet connections, providing anonymity and security at any location. Most virtual private network services require payment from the user, but a free VPN is a service that seeks to provide the same anonymity and coverage at no cost.

Unlike standard Internet connections, both free and paid VPNs conceal your IP address to keep your location and activity private online. They securely connect using advanced encryption and tunneling techniques to encapsulate all digital data transfers and Internet traffic, sending requests from a device through the VPN’s server first rather than directly to the recipient.

Free VPN shield is displayed in front of laptop computer

How does a free VPN work?

A free VPN, like paid VPNs, uses encryption tools to essentially alter data transmitted over your network. They hide your IP address by using data tunnels between your actual networks and a different point of exit in a different place. The IP address that the recipient sees, then, isn’t really yours; it comes from the virtual private network server instead.

This makes it difficult for someone to track your activity or connect it to you as a user. Your browsing history, online searches, and personal data are more secure with a virtual private network.

Benefits of a free virtual private network

In many ways, a free VPN provides the same services as a paid VPN. As mentioned above, both provide security and anonymity for online browsing. Below are four benefits to using a free VPN.

  1. Your browsing history is private. Keeping your browsing history and online activity private is difficult. Your Internet provider, other websites, and third-party advertisers all seek out your data for various purposes. However, a free VPN helps keep your data from being shared online. The obscured IP address provided by a VPN conceals your location and keeps your online activity and history secure, since it can’t be linked to you.
  2. Your identity is secure. Identity theft is a big problem, especially if you’re using a public or free WiFi network. Using a VPN service ensures that nobody else can access your personal information from your network, whether you’re using public Internet or simply your Internet at home. Paid VPN services have more security features than free VPN applications.
  3. You can change your online location to access blocked content. With some free VPNs, you have control over where your location appears to be to others online. Since most popular digital entertainment platforms, like Netflix, use your IP address to determine what country you’re in and what streaming library you should have access to, a VPN allows you to access different countries’ streaming libraries or TV shows. This also helps to evade content blockers at work or school.
  4. You won’t have to pay for the benefits of using a VPN. The biggest benefit to a free VPN is, of course, the price. Paid virtual private networks have all of the aforementioned qualities, but you’ll be paying out of pocket for security, private browsing history, and access to different shows and movies.

Risks of a free virtual private network

While free VPNs have the advantage of being more cost-effective, they also field several risks that paid VPN services don’t. Before you jump into using a free VPN for the price, consider these potential risks.

  1. You might experience ads. Like other free services, a free VPN service may show advertisements. These are annoying, but unfortunately are part of the tradeoff for the low price of a free virtual private network. While these don’t directly interfere with your browsing experience, they’re still obnoxious.
  2. Some free VPNs collect your personal information. The point of a virtual private network is to keep your information private and secure. Ironically, some free VPNs protect your data from the rest of the Internet while still collecting your data themselves. The companies keep your information on file as a consumer, and some may even sell your data to third-party advertisers.
  3. Some free services contain malware. With a free virtual private network service, you run the risk of downloading malware on accident. Many free VPN services come from unsecured sites, making them vulnerable. If you download or use those services, you make yourself vulnerable too.
  4. Free VPNs may fail. Though they work most of the time to protect your identity and block your content from being seen, in some cases, they don’t work. No free program will work as well as a paid program, so this isn’t surprising, but it is inconvenient for those expecting 24/7 protection.
  5. You may encounter connection problems with a free VPN. Because these services are free, the providers don’t put as much effort into making sure all traffic is efficiently handled by servers. As a result, your Internet service may slow down or you may experience more disruptions than normal.

Should I use a free VPN?

The question remains: are free VPNs safe? Though free VPNs have many benefits and are far more cost-effective, we ultimately recommend that you avoid using one if at all possible. There’s no such thing as a completely safe free VPN service, and virtual private networks channel all of your traffic and can access any and all of your Internet activity.

It’s crucial that you choose one that focuses first and foremost on your privacy and security, which not all free versions do. The threats of malware, unknown tracking, and questionable quality don’t outweigh the attractive cost of a free VPN. It's better to pay the price for a premium VPN instead of using a free version.