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As much as we all love freebies, some of us often wonder “why” they’re free or “how” they’re free. It’s a reasonable question considering everyone must be paid to pay the bills. Free VPN service providers are no different. So how exactly do free VPN services make money? When it comes to marketing, the word “free” is very powerful. According to psychologists, our brains are designed by nature to receive or want to receive something of value in exchange for doing little or nothing for it.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) provides a more secure and private Internet connection by hiding your IP address and encrypting data sent to and from your computer. And while there are some decent free VPN providers out there, it’s important to realize that they still make money off you and you might not like how it’s done.
How do free VPNs make money? knowing the facts
Restrictions and limitations
Many free VPN solutions are actually “freemium” software, meaning you get very limited features and capabilities compared to the full paid version. With VPNs, these limitations often take the form of bandwidth caps and monthly totals. Hotspot Shield, for example, offers one of the best free services out there, but only allows 500MB of traffic per day. So much data doesn’t get very far these days – a few emails with attachments will use it up in no time.
Some providers, like Proton VPN, offer unlimited data, but there are only two or three server locations available and speeds are limited. Free VPN providers know that speed, server selection, and data usage are what people expect most from a VPN, so they are more likely to apply restrictions here.
Registration of your activity and sale of your data
Government agencies, both local and foreign, can also extract this information with a heavy hand even from the most honest free VPN providers. In terms of privacy, a paid VPN is really the way to go – they can afford to delete your valuable data because you pay them a small monthly fee.
Use your computer as an exit node for paying users
With a standard VPN, once you connect to the server, you are assigned a new IP address, keeping your online activity private and secure. However, some VPN providers use non-paying users’ computers as exit nodes and route Internet traffic through their personal connection. As a result, your ISP (and anyone else watching) sees someone else’s traffic as if it were their own.
If that stops you, it’s totally justified – not everyone uses VPNs for legitimate purposes. If you don’t want your name and ISP account associated with illegal online activities, a free service probably isn’t for you.
Making you deal with intrusive ads
Advertising plays a double role when it comes to unpaid VPNs. The main goal, of course, is to show you a product or service in the hope that you’ll buy it. Showing ads from other companies is one of the ways free VPN providers make money. However, free VPNs are known to make intrusive and unavoidable ads to encourage users to upgrade to the paid version. As a result, ads are often timed and cannot be closed or must be played to the end before the VPN can be accessed.
It’s not the end of the world, but considering that Surfshark, a full-featured and fast VPN, costs around $2 per month, it’s a drawback that can be eliminated cheaply.
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