Sure you save money, but you “pay” for a free VPN with your privacy
A VPN, Virtual Private Network, is a tool that allows you to maximize your privacy online as it masks your true IP address and encrypts your connection. Torrenters especially appreciate VPNs as they help achieve anonymous file-sharing. But, in fact, there are many other practical advantages for using a VPN.
In the wake of growing global surveillance and censorship, more people are signing up for VPNs to boost their personal privacy and expand their online freedom and choices.
Depending on individual needs, you can choose from a multitude of VPN providers. There are now dozens if not hundreds of VPN providers to choose from. The services offered cover a wide spectrum. All the choice means there is a virtual menu available for ease-of-use, speed, number and scope of proxy servers, supported protocols and activities, data encryption methods, bandwidth limitations, and more.
Free is Always Nice but …
And of course, there is the matter of cost. Some VPNs are free, while others charge a fee, usually on a subscription basis (for example, per month or per year). Prices can range from free to $10+ per month.
- Top Tip – our hands-down recommended best torrent VPN provider, PrivateInternetAccess (PIA), is just over $3 per month thanks to the discount coupon PIA makes available to our readers
As you’d expect, paid VPNs offer enhanced services to their subscribers, such as faster connection speeds, premium customer support, an increased number of supported protocols, and more.
The prospect of a free VPN for torrenting is attractive, so it’s only natural to be curious about whether a free VPN for torrenting is a good option. After all, people by the millions opt for a free VPN.
Just don’t do it. Not for torrenting or anything else.
How Truly “Free” are Free VPNs?
It’s a mistake to base your choice on price alone. You may end up “paying” more for a free torrent VPN than for a premium one, in terms of your privacy and sometimes your security too.
We are all used to free online services, whether email, social media, cloud storage, you name it, we expect it free. We sometimes need reminding that nothing is truly free, and a “free” VPN for torrenting is no exception.
A VPN provider is a business, and a business needs profits to survive and eventually thrive. There is no obvious profit to a VPN provider offering free subscriptions. Therefore, they must be generating profits some other way.
How Free VPNs Make Profits to Survive
A free VPN (for torrenting or anything else) can try generating profits in a number of ways.
- Upselling – The provider may offer free accounts with certain limitations – such as speed restrictions or download limits – in the hopes that they can upsell you to eventually sign up for their enhanced, premium VPN plan. This is a method commonly used throughout online commerce. So, expect to be bombarded with regular offers trying to convince you to upgrade.
- Advertising – Some free VPNs are supported by advertising. This method injects ads into your online experience, either displaying them in the VPN app or indirectly superimposing them during your online sessions. If nothing else, the ads are annoying, slow you down by using up some of your bandwidth (especially flashy, animated ads) and often use dirty tricks to get you to click.
Also, keep in mind that if the VPN can insert ads into your online experience, it can insert malware too. We are not saying free VPNs providers do this, but it is a risk. For example, if the VPN provider is hacked, hackers could serve up malware in this way. As premium VPNs do not insert ads into your experience, this risk is much lower if not negligible.
- Cutting corners – All things being equal, a free VPN service doesn’t have the resources of their paid competitors. Thus, they are often in the position of having to impose bandwidth speed limits on their free users. These limits may be openly disclosed with your knowledge or simply imposed invisibly out of necessity. Data download limits are a major drawback, especially for torrent file-sharing. A free VPN for torrenting has little disincentive from throttling your speeds if you turn out to be a heavy user.
- Mining and selling your data – However, a more worrying source of profits for free VPN providers is the collection and selling of your data. Read the terms of service for the free VPN carefully but it could be that all your activities being routed through the free VPN are being aggregated and sold or shared with third parties. In the age of Big Data, there are many parties willing to pay for such information. If you think that’s not a big deal (and a small price for getting a free service), think again. This information could come back to haunt you in many unforeseen ways and for years to come.
The best VPN providers can afford to have strong user privacy policies and practices. Some, including our top recommendation, never keep any user activity logs; you can even sign up and pay anonymously with Bitcoin or prepaid gift cards.
Sadly, a Free VPN Just Doesn’t Have Your Back
Those of us engaged in p2p torrent-file sharing must remain ever vigilant about our online privacy. There are many adversaries you have to worry about: apart from the hackers, malware artists and scammers we all have to worry about, torrenters have the additional worry posed specifically by the hordes of snoops monitoring our torrent activities.
The best premium VPN providers have an incentive to keep your activities as anonymous as possible and to fight to keep your data safeguarded. That incentive is our monthly subscription fees; money which helps the VPN fight our corner when needed. Because a premium VPN’s reputation can be destroyed overnight, they take the responsibility of protecting our privacy very seriously.
A free torrent VPN has no such incentive and will likely do and disclose anything to avoid, for example, potentially expensive litigation.
Don’t Trust a Free VPN
Ultimately, the choice is yours, but for less cost per month than the price of a hipster coffee you can have all the protections offered by the best VPN for torrent file-sharing. How many more reasons do you need?