Free VPN vs. Paid VPN: Which is the better option?


The demand for VPNs has surged as more people want to keep their data private and secure online. Also, there are growing concerns over increased government surveillance worldwide.

A quick search on your app store will give you many free options but are they safe? Also, does it make sense to pay for a VPN subscription, yet you can get free service? First, let’s examine the similarities and differences between free and paid VPNs.

What is a free VPN?

As the name suggests, a free VPN allows you to use the service without paying anything.

However, running a VPN service, including server networks, user support, and client apps, isn’t cheap. Also, keep in mind that free VPN providers are businesses, not charity organizations, so they have to make money somehow. This is where the issue arises.

Ways in which free VPNs make money

Below are some of the different ways free VPN providers make a buck

Tracking and selling your data

Data is precious these days, and there are brokerage companies that harvest users’ data and sell it to third-party advertisers. So, a database of your browsing habits is a high-demand commodity.

Free VPN providers track your online activities, including the websites you visit, the kind of device you are using, and much more. They can sell this information to whomever to make money.

Displaying Invasive ads

Another major way free VPNs generate revenue is by bombarding you with ads on their apps. The provider will get a share when you click on the ad. If the VPN has millions of users, it can make enough money to sustain the business.

Sadly, these ads can impede your browsing or streaming experience, and sometimes it isn’t easy to close them. Making it worse, some ads may contain malware that can infect your device.

Selling your bandwidth

Many free VPNs operate as P2P networks. This means they route your data through other users’ devices and send other users’ traffic through your device. It is precarious and can put you at risk of DNS attacks or malware. Other services even sell your unused bandwidth to third parties, which is downright dangerous.

Compel you to upgrade to paid subscriptions

Some free VPN providers will set data caps and offer limited features to force you to upgrade to the paid plans. The problem is that you might exhaust the data since you should always have the VPN active. So, you will be forced to upgrade or use the VPN only when necessary.

Drawbacks of free VPNs

  • Inadequate security – One of the main functions of a VPN is to protect your digital security and privacy, but a free VPN might not. This is because the providers don’t have the resources to employ solid encryption or other necessary security features.
  • Limited performance – Usually, free VPNs have a few servers that are congested easily due to the high number of users. As a result, you will get sluggish speeds, making it unreliable for online tasks like streaming, torrenting, or gaming.
  • Poor privacy – Besides safeguarding your privacy, a VPN should maintain your privacy by hiding your IP address. This will prevent anyone from knowing who you are or seeing your location. However, free VPNs will harvest your private information and sell it to third parties.

Paid VPNs: Are they better than the free options?

Unlike free VPNs, premium VPNs require you to pay a subscription to use their services. This is how the providers make money which they use to invest back to provide you with the best experience possible. They rely on the paying customers, so they have to take of them and maintain a good reputation.

Benefits of a paid VPN

Reliable encryption

A lack of encryption will expose your internet traffic and sensitive information to third parties. This can be even worse if you regularly use public Wi-Fi, as hackers often target them. Many paid VPNs use military-grade AES 256-bit encryption that scrambles your data into unreadable gibberish so that nobody can access it. On top of the encryption, premium services also offer additional security features like perfect forward secrecy, DNS leak protection, kill switch, etc.

Strong privacy

Premium services are purely subscription-based, so they don’t engage in unethical activities like harvesting or selling your data. In fact, most of them observe a strict no-logs policy, and the providers are based in privacy-friendly countries like Panama and the British Virgin Islands.

Extensive server network

As mentioned earlier, free VPNs operate few servers. However, many premium VPNs run and manage vast networks with hundreds or even thousands of servers. As a result, you can use the server closest to your location for better speeds. In addition, some like NordVPN have servers dedicated for purposes like P2P sharing, Onion over VPN, obfuscated servers, and double VPB servers.

Bypass geo-blocks

Some websites like Netflix are geo-restricted, which means you cannot access them from anywhere. However, a premium VPN will enable you to change your IP address and evade all geographic restrictions. Also, this will come in handy to avoid censorship in countries like China, Russia, and Iran that block social media platforms and other western websites.

Additional features

Many paid VPNs offer unique features for additional security or to improve your overall experience. For example, NordVPN has Threat Protection that blocks malicious ads and third-party trackers. Also, the VPN provides Dark Web Monitor that will inform you when your data is leaked to the dark web.

Differences and similarities between free VPNs and Paid VPNs

  Free VPNs Paid VPNs
Stable VPN connection X Yes
Masks IP addresses Yes Yes
Data encryption Yes Yes
Extensive server network X Yes
Dedicated IP address X Yes
Specialty servers X Yes
Bandwidth limit Yes X
Multiple simultaneous connections X Yes
24/7 customer support X Yes

Bottom Line

So, which is the better option between a free VPN and a paid VPN? As you have seen above, a free VPN may seem appealing, but it will compromise your security and privacy. For example, they use weak encryption and may sell your data to make money. On the other hand, premium services will charge you a subscription but will give you peace of mind. This is because they employ robust encryption and don’t store your identifiable information.