Are 80% of VPN users putting themselves at risk?

Polygonal vector illustration of the virtual private network's shield reading VPN and world map on the background
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Free VPN services have been seeing a surge in demand lately. As an exclusive TechRadar Pro survey found out, about 60% of readers living in the US have already switched their paid subscription for a no-fee plan. 

The number of people considering a free tool gets even higher in countries where tough internet restrictions make using a VPN a necessity. 

After gathering insights from 2,000 internet users across China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and United Arab Emirates (UAE), research conducted by no-fee VPN provider Hola together with market research firm Vanson Bourne revealed that about 80% of respondents would consider using a free tool to bypass online censorship. 

At the same time, many freebies are also infamous for failing to protect their users' privacy. This is probably why the great majority of people surveyed - 97%, reaching 99% in China - would like to see providers doing more to make online content accessible for all. 

"We agree with users in those regions that technology companies should be doing more to address this and one key weapon in this battle is free web content tools that help unlock blocked content," said Hola’s General Manager Avi Raz Cohen.

"We are proud to provide free VPN technology and web tools that unlock online content and help bypass restrictions."

Illustration of the letters VPN surrounded by people, devices and padlocks

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The VPN market is expected to grow over the next year

Internet restrictions have a huge impact on citizens' day-to-day life. More than four in 10 respondents said they are not be able to access education and other online resources, while 29% struggle to stay informed. 

With authoritarian governments continuing to refine their censorship tactics to increase their grip over the web, it's not surprising that more than 80% of users are expecting the demand for the best VPN services to further increase over the next year.

We agree with users in those regions that technology companies should be doing more

Avi Raz Cohen, Hola’s General Manager

“The internet was created to be a global borderless resource that benefits us all, but due to geopolitical interferences, it is becoming increasingly closed off in certain regions, and we must all work together to fight back against this,” said Raz Cohen. 

A free VPN without jeopardizing your privacy

As a rule of thumb, you should be careful when downloading solely free VPN apps. This is mainly because without paying for a fee, these are likely to turn to advertising to make revenue. Ads can also jeopardize your privacy as they collect and share some of your personal information with third parties. 

The good news is that there are a bunch of premium providers also offering users a secure no-fee plan. 

The Swiss-based Proton VPN is our #1 recommendation at the moment. Its reliable free plan can be handy to circumvent internet restrictions while escaping from intrusive government surveillance. Even though with some limits - like unlocking foreign streaming catalogs or torrenting, for example - it comes with unlimited data bandwidth, three secure server locations (USA, Netherlands and Japan) and even some advanced security features for a freebie like split tunneling, a kill switch, and DNS leak protection.

Proton VPN in use on a smartphone

(Image credit: Proton VPN)

Another valuable option is PrivadoVPN. It comes with a data limit of 10GB, though, but for many this will be more than enough to carry on your usual activities in privacy. Torrenters will be happy to know that it boasts servers that support P2P sharing, too, but most impressive is its streaming ability. In our testing, we unblocked US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Prime Video, and Disney+.

If you opt for Canada-based Windscribe, you will be able to choose among 14 secure servers across 11 countries. We even managed to unlock UK Netflix last time we checked. 

Other reliable providers offering free services include Atlas VPN, TunnelBear, Hotspot Shield and

If you are looking for a temporary solution, you might want to consider a premium provider offering a VPN free trial. Just about all our best services offer a 30 or 45-day money-back guarantee. It is worth noting that you need to pay for the subscription upfront, but you will be refunded if you cancel your subscription before the trial period expires. 

Chiara Castro
Senior Staff Writer

Chiara is a multimedia journalist committed to covering stories to help promote the rights and denounce the abuses of the digital side of life—wherever cybersecurity, markets and politics tangle up. She mainly writes news, interviews and analysis on data privacy, online censorship, digital rights, cybercrime, and security software, with a special focus on VPNs, for TechRadar Pro, TechRadar and Tom’s Guide. Got a story, tip-off or something tech-interesting to say? Reach out to