We didn’t audit any VPN services ourselves (though IVPN, our top pick, offered to arrange such an exercise), but we did ask detailed questions about each service’s operations as a way to judge whether a company was acting in good faith. Good faith is important, because there aren’t many avenues to penalize a VPN company that isn’t following through on its promises. In the US, companies making false claims about their products are policed by the Federal Trade Commission, and to some extent state attorneys general. Joseph Jerome at CDT told us that companies violating their own privacy policy or claims about logging would be “a textbook example of a deceptive practice under state and federal consumer protection laws,” and in theory, “the FTC could seek an injunction barring the deceptive practice as well as potentially getting restitution or other monetary relief.”
For example, when your computer is connected to a VPN, the computer acts as if it's also on the same network as the VPN. All of your online traffic is transferred over a secure connection to the VPN. The computer will then behave as if it's on that network, allowing you to securely gain access to local network resources. Regardless of your location, you'll be given permission to use the internet as if you were present at the VPN's location. This can be extremely beneficial for individuals using a public Wi-Fi.
Beyond the CNET directory, it's always good practice to search "the Google" for a company or product name and read the user reviews. If you see a huge number of old complaints or new complaints suddenly start showing up, it might be that there's been a change of management or policies. When I'm looking for a service, I always base my decision partially on professional reviews and partially based on the tone of user reviews.

TunnelBear has some strong supporters among Wirecutter’s staff. The company has a public history of transparency, staff listings, and the clearest privacy policy of any VPN service we’ve found, plus TunnelBear is one of the only VPNs to release a public audit of its system. But the service was one of the least reliable we tried. In four of our 18 connection tests, we managed broadband speeds; in a handful of others TunnelBear was well below the average, and in even more it failed to provide a usable connection at all. As we were writing this guide, security giant McAfee announced that it had acquired TunnelBear. Fans of the service should keep an eye out for changes to its privacy stance and transparency as the US-based firm takes over.


If your VPN provider is based within a country that is part of the 14 Eyes, it can be asked to share data of its customers and will legally have to comply. If your provider promises that it doesn't log any information, you're probably safe within the 14 Eyes, but it is more of a risk if privacy is your main concern and you might want to consider looking for a VPN provider that is based elsewhere.


IVPN doesn’t have as many server locations as larger services like ExpressVPN do. When we initially recommended the service, IVPN was limited to 13 countries, compared with ExpressVPN’s 94. But in the months since, IVPN has doubled that to 26, including two additional locations in Asia (Tokyo and Singapore). We’ve yet to test the new servers though, and in the past, IVPN’s single location in Asia—Hong Kong—was slower than competitors.
VPNs also cloak your computer's actual IP address, hiding it behind the IP address of the VPN server you're connected to. IP addresses are distributed based on location, so you can estimate someone's location simply by looking at their IP address. And while IP addresses may change, it's possible to track someone across the internet by watching where the same IP address appears. Using a VPN makes it harder for advertisers (or spies, or hackers) to track you online.
We tested Private Internet Services using its Windows installer, which configures the VPN protocols and provides a simple utility in the task bar to turn the VPN connection on and off. While the interface was spartan, performance was excellent. Our test system consistently maintained over 110 Mb/s download and 19 Mb/s upload speeds with the VPN connection turned on, very close to our usual 125 Mb/s download and 20 Mb/s upload speeds.
We also dove deeper into the desktop apps of the top-performing services. Great apps have automatic location selection, easy-to-use designs, and detailed but uncluttered settings panels. We set up each service’s Android app on a Samsung Galaxy S8 running Android 7.0 Nougat. We took into account how easy each one was to set up and connect, along with what options were available in the settings pane.
Trusting a VPN is a hard choice, but IVPN’s transparency goes a long way toward proving that its customers’ privacy is a priority. Founder and CEO Nick Pestell answered all our questions about the company’s internal security, and even described the tools the company used to limit and track access to secure servers. The top VPN services gave us a variety of answers to these questions, some of which were frustratingly vague. ExpressVPN was the only other company to outline these controls and assure us that these policies were well-documented and not half-practiced.
You can pay for a Windscribe subscription with bitcoin, and you don't even have to provide an email address. The service is based in Canada, which may appeal to users wary of U.S. authorities. The only feature lacking is a kill switch to stop all internet activity if the VPN connection is lost while in use, but Windscribe argues that its built-in firewall prevents data leakage.
Windscribe's network performance was once about average in our tests, but a recent switch in VPN protocols put it on par with Private Internet Access in head-to-head tests. Windscribe is compatible with many platforms (including routers and Amazon Fire and Kodi TV set-top boxes), offers a wide variety of connection options, has a wide geographic reach with hundreds of servers, and presents an appealing, if minimal, user interface. It was also one of the best at connecting to Netflix U.K. and BBC iPlayer, if you're into that sort of thing.
Their best plan is 1-year subscription plan: $6.99 ($83.88). While their monthly price of $11.95 is at the high end of the spectrum (and they did lose a few points for that), their yearly price of $83.88 is lower than most our contenders. And yes, they also have a full 30-day refund policy. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. They do offer $2.99/month (75% discount) for a 3-year plan .
×