Beware - that free VPN may be costing you in other ways

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Supposedly free VPN services may not be the bargain they pretend to be, according to new research which found many services are lacking in security.

Research by ProPrivacy found that a huge number of free VPN apps fail to offer even basic levels of privacy and security, putting millions of users at risk of having the internet activity tracked.

The news is especially worrying as interest in VPNs has grown steadily in recent months following a litany of global events from the US TikTok ban to Hong Kong anti-China protests.

Free VPN flaws

ProPrivacy researched the top 250 free VPN apps available on the Google Play Store, and found that 40% were not able to protect users’ privacy adequately.

These apps had collectively been downloaded 81.4 million times - almost equivalent to the population of Germany, or a quarter of the United States.

ProPrivacy tested free VPNs for a range of leaks using both IPv4 and IPv6 connections, finding that a large number were not securing data properly. 

The news came alongside a similar study by CSIRO which found that over three quarters (75%) of free VPNs had  at least one third-party tracker rooted in their software. These trackers collect information on customers’ online presence and forward that data to advertising agencies to optimize their ads.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch. If a user does not pay for a service, there must be an alternative price to be paid. And, very often, it’s privacy. That is exactly what happened this July, when seven free VPN providers were caught leaking 1,2TB of personal user data despite their continuous claims to be holding no logs,” says Daniel Markuson, Digital Privacy Expert at NordVPN.

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.