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Free VPNs vs. Paid VPNs – What Are the Differences?

free vpns vs paid vpns

Are there any major, noteworthy differences when it comes to comparing free VPNs vs. paid VPNs? Other than the price thing, obviously. After all, they’re both VPNs, so they should be able to offer you the same experience, right?

Not quite. In fact, when you start taking a closer look at the main disadvantages that set free VPNs apart from their paid counterparts, that’s when things really start to get interesting – but not in a good way, unfortunately.

With a paid VPN, the only real drawback you could complain about would be the price. But when it comes to free VPNs, the disadvantages tend to pile up.

The Real Drawbacks of Using Free VPNs

Free VPNs Might Contain Malware

Some free VPNs might try to put your private data and the integrity of your device at risk. Actually, here’s the kind of malicious software you might be exposed to:

  • Adware
  • Riskware
  • Malvertising
  • Trojans
  • Spyware

For instance, a lot of free VPN apps that were and continue to be present on the Google Play Store were found to be malicious. Not only that, but those apps even managed to trick millions of users into exposing their devices to malware.

Free VPNs Can Sell Your Bandwidth

When it comes to free VPNs vs. paid VPNs, the way they work is not always the same. Some free VPNs, for example, function on a peer-to-peer model, meaning that users are treated like “exit nodes” for other users who are routed to a specific geo-destination through them – basically like Tor, but you can’t opt out of this agreement.

Well, a free VPN can actually aggregate the bandwidth of the users who act as exit nodes, and sell it to the highest bidder. Yes, that pretty much means that if someone has the will and the money, they can use that user bandwidth as a botnet to launch attacks against other websites.


Oh, and this is no speculation – it already happened.

Free VPNs Can Sell Your Data to Advertisers

According to some research, certain free VPNs have been found to contain tracking libraries that log sensitive user data. Which makes the overall idea of using a VPN to not get tracked by your ISP or government a bit pointless, don’t you think?

Besides that, it seems that some free VPN providers also like to sell the user data they collect to advertisers. Most of the time, they actually make it pretty clear in their Terms of Services or Privacy Policy that they log and share user data with third-party advertisers.

In the end, this shouldn’t be that surprising. A “free” VPN needs to handle its support, server, and staff costs somehow.

Since a paid VPN has got all that sorted out, they don’t have a reason to keep usage logs and monitor user data. At most, some paid VPNs might use connection logs, but you can also find providers that keep no logs.

Free VPNs Can Spam You with Ads

When they’re not sharing your info with advertisers, free VPNs will directly interrupt your online or VPN experience from time to time by displaying ads on their VPN client, which can get annoying quite fast.

Sometimes, it can get to the point where scripts can be inserted into your device to expose you to even more ads.

And this isn’t some secret or illegal practice – most free VPNs clearly state they display ads to users in their ToS.

Free VPNs Barely Offer Any Protection

Unlike paid VPNs that can afford to offer you multiple VPN protocol and encryption options (including OpenVPN), free VPNs can usually only offer PPTP and L2TP VPN protocols.

L2TP has no encryption on its own unless it is paired up with IPsec, which makes it more decent (as long a it’s configured properly) but still weaker than OpenVPN. PPTP, on the other hand, is less than ideal for security, and has been considered as such for a while now.

In the best case scenario that you do manage to find a free VPN that offers OpenVPN + strong encryption, it won’t take you long to find out they store a lot of user data which they share with third-parties if you read through their ToS.

Furthermore, according to security experts, free VPN encryption is likely to be poorly configured, making it easy for hackers or surveillance agencies to intercept and decrypt your private data. Not only that, but some free VPNs might actually spy on your so-called “secured” transmissions, or just not work at all.

The “fun” doesn’t end there, though. Apparently, some free VPNs have weaknesses that can be exploited by cybercriminals, giving them free reign to run programs on a free VPN user’s device.

The Features Are Generally Limited

If free VPNs can barely afford to offer you decent online security, you can’t really expect them to provide you with other perks, like 24/7 customer support or unlimited bandwidth – like paid VPNs generally do.

What’s more, sometimes, even the server selection is pretty sub-par. And what some free VPNs make up for in number of servers, they seriously lack in stable, high-speed connections.

Limited Features

After all, if they don’t charge any money for their services, how would they be able to offer all of that?

Free VPNs vs. Paid VPNs. – The Bottom Line

Overall, it’s quite clear that paid VPNs will always be the better option – unless proper security, quality privacy, great customer support, and an ad-free experience is just something you are not interested in.

In case you want to make sure your personal data and online traffic don’t end up in the wrong hands, and that your ISP and government don’t monitor everything you do online, a paid VPN is always the way to go.

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Posted on in Good to know, VPN
Tim has been writing content and copy for a living for over 4 years, and has been covering VPN, Internet privacy, and cybersecurity topics for more than 2 years. He enjoys staying up-to-date with the latest in Internet privacy news, and helping people find new ways to secure their online rights.