A recently published article by The Next Web warns that free VPN services could sell your data to third parties. Although the dangers of a free VPN service are nothing new to tech experts, many people still use them. In a time when GDPR is fully enforced in the EU, this issue is becoming increasingly relevant. The article explains and argues that free VPN services are the biggest culprits when it comes to data misuse. But before we start listing why VPNs are dangerous, let's first explain why we even use them.
A virtual private network, or VPN, is a group of computers (or discrete networks) that are connected to each other via a public network, i.e. the internet. Essentially, your data is encrypted and routed through the VPN servers in such a way that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) cannot see what you are doing online. VPNs also allow you to change the location of your server, which is a popular feature especially when using streaming services, such as Netflix or Amazon, as different or more content is available in countries like the US. Businesses, on the other hand, use VPNs to access resources when they are not physically on the same local network. It also allows companies to secure and encrypt their communications when using a public network. VPNs offer many benefits, but choosing a free VPN can be dangerous. While your ISP cannot track your online activity, the VPN company can.
One of the biggest marketing and sales arguments for VPNs is that they prevent ISPs and others from tracking your online activities and selling that data for profit. Paid VPNs tend to be more transparent about data processing. On the other hand, a free VPN may seem like a cheaper option for your wallet, but in the end, you may end up paying a higher price. A CSIRO study found that 75 percent of free VPN apps had some form of data tracking. That's a pretty scary number that makes you think twice about using a VPN for privacy.
VPN providers with a free solution use various methods to make money. Some may show you ads when you open the app, while others collect and sell your data. Some may be more transparent than others, but if your goal is to keep your internet activity private, it's best to stay away from free VPN apps.
While it may be tempting to install and use a free VPN service, you need to be prepared to make compromises. Time will tell how the GDPR will affect these companies, but as many of them are based in countries with weaker regulations in this area, you still risk compromising your privacy.
You can find a list of the most secure VPN providers here.
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