Recall that when you're online and connected to an internet application through a VPN, there are a few things happening: Your data from your computer to the VPN service is encrypted by the VPN. Your data from the VPN service to the internet application may or may not be encrypted via https, but it's not encrypted by the VPN service. And your IP address is spoofed. The online application sees the IP address of the VPN service, not of your laptop.
But even if you know who’s behind your VPN, you shouldn’t trust a free one. A free service makes you and your data the product, so you should assume that any information it gathers on you—whether that’s an actual browsing history or demographics like age or political affiliation—is being sold to or shared with someone. For example, Facebook’s Onavo provides an encrypted connection to Onavo’s servers like any VPN, shielding you from the prying eyes of your ISP or fellow network users. But instead of promising not to examine, log, or share any of your traffic, Onavo’s privacy policy promises the opposite. Covering the service, Gizmodo sums it up well: “Facebook is not a privacy company; it’s Big Brother on PCP.” Facebook collects information about your device, other applications you use, and even “information and other data from your device, such as webpage addresses and data fields.” And the company “may combine the information, including personally identifying information, that you provide through your use of the Services with information about you we receive from our Affiliates or third parties for business, analytic, advertising, and other purposes.” That means Facebook can collect anything it wants, and sell it to anyone it wants.
The IVPN app’s default settings are great for most people, who should be happy just smashing the Connect button and not fiddling with settings. The desktop app defaults to a secure OpenVPN connection with AES 256-bit encryption (what we consider the standard at this point), and the mobile app can (and should) be toggled to OpenVPN as well. Our budget pick, TorGuard, defaults to the weaker (but also acceptable) AES 128-bit encryption unless you manually change it, and hasn’t added OpenVPN support on its iOS app.
Central America isn’t the first place you’d think of when it comes to cutting edge technology, but NordVPN is up there with the best VPN services in 2019. It has 1015 servers in 59 countries, supports up to six devices simultaneously, runs 2048-bit encryption and has a feature list including an automatic kill switch, dedicated IP addresses, strong DNS leak protection and the ability to pay in Bitcoin. For relatively short connections performance was superb, although we did notice a little latency creeping in from time to time for very long distance connections. However, browsing remained snappy and performance wasn’t degraded significantly. We’d recommend hunting the site for its free trial and if you like it, signing up for the 3-year plan which is currently going for just $99!
When we test VPNs, we generally start with the Windows client. This is often the most complete review, covering several different platforms as well as the service's features and pricing in depth. That's purely out of necessity, since most of our readers use Windows (although this writer is currently using a MacBook Air). We currently use a Lenovo ThinkPad T460s laptop running the latest version of Windows 10. We periodically upgrade to a newer machine, in order to simulate what most users experience.
Sadly, I engaged PIA, the number one rated and paid a "great price" for a 3 year service only to findout that dur to a recent SMTP abuses they no longer can be used when using Microsoft servers. So, all of my outbound email is rejected from Microsoft Servers due to this policy. In itself, fine, but as I enrolled in this service and while setting up the servie at no time was this mentioned nor, prior to a May 15 issue, was this a problem. 

HotSpot Shield is a product that has had some ups and downs in terms of our editorial coverage. Back in 2016, they picked up some very positive coverage based on founder David Gorodyansky comments about protecting user privacy. Then, in 2017, a privacy group accused the company of spying on user traffic, an accusation the company flatly denies. Finally, just this year, ZDNet uncovered a flaw in the company's software that exposed users. Fortunately, that was fixed immediately.

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