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Is Your Free VPN Putting Your Data at Risk?

Is Your Free VPN Putting Your Data at Risk?

Since the turn of the Millennium the Internet has grown at such an astounding rate that a lot of people question what we ever did without it. It is used as part of our everyday lives in some way, and even the most ardent technophobe will have struggled to remain completely offline – and why would you want to?

The ‘net has improved almost every area of life – from banking to shopping, everything is now available at the touch of a button. We can find out anything we want wherever we are in the world in an instant, and with a plethora of Social Media apps available, we have the ability to interact with old friends and new without leaving the house.

There is no doubt that the growth of the Internet has had a hugely positive impact on life in the 21st century, but with so much of our data now being available online – whether it be sharing information about yourself on Facebook or shopping for the latest gadgets on Amazon – we must take care to stop this data falling into the wrong hands.

It has become widely accepted that using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) when using the internet is one the best ways to do this. However, it is very important that you pick the right VPN, as the consequences of getting this wrong can potentially end up being very expensive.

There are many different VPN provider’s out there, including many free ones, but when it comes to VPN’s, what does free actually cost you?

What is your Data how much is it worth?

When we are talking about data in this context, we are talking about your personal data that you generate every time you go online. You create what is called a digital footprint through your online activity and the data you generate, this can either be data you actively leave this behind; for example, posting on Twitter that you are going to watch a particular concert or sports team play; or data you passively leave behind, which can take a number of different forms – such as IP address and geolocation.

Your Google search history; pages and brand you like on Facebook; your Online Banking password – these are all examples of your personal data that can be used, or sold to people looking to make money – or in some cases potentially steal money – from you. It is extremely important that you retain control over your personal data, otherwise it will become a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder.

Every website that you visit, every search engine query that you make, every time you read and article via a link clicked on your Facebook account, the data is generated and this can then be collected by Data Brokers or Online Tracking Companies who then store this data and can then make assumptions about your age, gender, household income and other factors that are of interest to advertisers looking, who will buy this information with the intention of targeting advertising specifically to you.

There are lots of different categories and subcategories that these Data Broker’s can put us in, but they are usually pretty accurate, and considering they have almost all of, what we believe to be, ‘private’ internet usage history to work with, it is no surprise – which means it is BIG business.

The most common way to protect your privacy is by using a VPN, so what is a VPN and how do you know which one is going to keep your data safe?

What is a VPN and how do you use one?

A ‘Virtual Private Network’ or VPN is a way for you to protect your data and identity online by essentially blocking your IP address and redirecting it elsewhere, which also means VPN’s are great for accessing geolocation specific material that is not available in your region, such as a foreign news site or streaming service.

A picture showcasing the use of having a VPN connection.

They also give you an extra layer of security against hackers, something you must be extremely careful if using public wi-fi.  Using a VPN is easy and you just install the software on your PC, Tablet or Phone and launching the application. Most VPN’s these days work across all the main Operating Systems such as Windows, iOS and Android.

By downloading software from your VPN and then routing all your internet traffic through the VPN’s servers, you are placing a lot of trust the company that provides you with your VPN, and so picking the right one is extremely important.

The real cost of a ‘Free’ VPN

Is a free VPN really safe?

The short answer to this is absolutely no, there are no VPN companies that are going to offer a VPN service completely free for an unlimited amount of time, and so the obvious question is how do these companies make any money and what are the risks you take by using one?

The main way that a free VPN service is going to make money is by tracking and selling your data to Data Brokers who will then use the information to target advertisements to you, or the VPN companies may retarget you with adverts themselves. The problem here is that the type of advertisement and companies that you can be targeted with here are often found to be unsafe and completely without regulation, and a lot more unsafe than the targeted adverts you would get had your traffic not been routed through the servers of the Free VPN.

This is one of the least worrying ways that the VPN companies will try to monetize your data, and it is generally done legally as with the free VPN’s it is common practice to request some very intrusive permissions in the terms and conditions, which are often agreed to without a second thought when you download the VPN software

There are a number of much more unsavoury ways that a free VPN company can target you, and they may not always be legal and are quite often shady at best, so it is very important you are aware of just what you are signing up to when you use a Free VPN.

Free VPN’s have been known to steal the bandwidth of its users, which happened to the users of Hola Free VPN. Users have also been subjected to Malware injections used to steal personal information or subject Users to Ransomware attacks, and obviously these are completely illegal, however, they are notoriously hard to investigate and that does not mean that it will not happen, so be careful!

Getting the right VPN

There are a number of things to look out for when choosing a VPN, firstly as we have discussed, there should be an obvious business model of where the revenue is coming from to sustain the business, so that you know they do not need to resort to grey or black hat tactics to create an income.

Always read the terms and conditions, and look for VPNs using OpenVPN protocol, rather than the outdated Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) which is widely considered to be much more insecure.

Always check what Permissions that the VPN is asking for – some, such as access to parts of your browsing history is necessary for it to function, but if it is also asking for access to call logs, camera, mic etc. then this is often an indication they are collecting a lot more data than is really necessary, and for this you have to ask why?

You also want a VPN provider that does not collect logs, although you don’t always know what they actually do – even if they say they do not, just use your discretion, and try to use a reputable service. Finally, just check the terms and conditions for what types of information is collected or stored.

Most VPNs are only a few dollars per month, and so the cost of getting the wrong VPN could be many times this. You always have to wonder why something would be offered completely free – as they say there is no such thing as a free lunch, or a free VPN, so it is important to remember what your data could be worth to some companies or nefarious individuals and to protect yourself from being exploited.

If you are still considering a free VPN service, check out the top 5 free VPN service that we recommend in 2019.

Christopher Nichols

Christopher Nichols has always enjoyed using new technology advancements to scale marketing efforts. He believes in data-driven marketing and in practices it in his agency, Strictly Digital.