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Beware - that free VPN may be costing you in other ways

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Supposedly free VPN services may not be the bargain they pretend to be, according to new research which found many services are lacking in security.

Research by ProPrivacy found that a huge number of free VPN apps fail to offer even basic levels of privacy and security, putting millions of users at risk of having the internet activity tracked.

The news is especially worrying as interest in VPNs has grown steadily in recent months following a litany of global events from the US TikTok ban to Hong Kong anti-China protests.

Free VPN flaws

ProPrivacy researched the top 250 free VPN apps available on the Google Play Store, and found that 40% were not able to protect users’ privacy adequately.

These apps had collectively been downloaded 81.4 million times - almost equivalent to the population of Germany, or a quarter of the United States.

ProPrivacy tested free VPNs for a range of leaks using both IPv4 and IPv6 connections, finding that a large number were not securing data properly. 

The news came alongside a similar study by CSIRO which found that over three quarters (75%) of free VPNs had  at least one third-party tracker rooted in their software. These trackers collect information on customers’ online presence and forward that data to advertising agencies to optimize their ads.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch. If a user does not pay for a service, there must be an alternative price to be paid. And, very often, it’s privacy. That is exactly what happened this July, when seven free VPN providers were caught leaking 1,2TB of personal user data despite their continuous claims to be holding no logs,” says Daniel Markuson, Digital Privacy Expert at NordVPN.

Mike Moore is News & Features Editor across both TechRadar Pro and ITProPortal. He has worked as a technology journalist for more than five years, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers. He is interested in hearing about all the latest B2B and B2C news, analysis and opinions, including how companies are using new technology to help forward their work and make their customer's lives easier.