It is usually the case that online reviews and guides are happy to tell you which VPNs are awesome. We are also guilty of that to an extent (but we only recommend products that we have used and liked ourselves).
But an interesting question is what VPNs are absolutely, definitely not recommended. Either because they are scammy, don’t provide privacy or make untrue, exaggerated claims.
Some of these providers have excellent reviews around the web, which probably has something to do with high referral fees that they pay out to website owner.
It must be said, that being blacklisted doesn’t always mean that the service should be avoided like a plague. Some services are useful for a brief research (Hola comes to mind). Even a “free”, non-private VPN is better than nothing when you’re on a busy public wi-fi – after all it secures your passwords from curious people who like to intercept the wi-fi traffic.
Here is our definite VPN blacklist for 2017.
HideMyAss is a popular UK-based VPN provider. In 2011 they have famously handed over a high-profile customer’s data to the feds. The high-profile customer was a member of the notorious hacking group LulzSec, who had used a HideMyAss VPN connection to hack into Sony’s servers.
Even though the ass-hiders claim that they don’t log private data, somehow they managed to scrape enough data to incriminate the LulzSec man.
Even if you’re not going to perform high-profile hacks, who says that HideMyAss won’t hand over your identity to some copyright protection company? Besides, the service is ridiculously overpriced at $11.52 per month. Definitely avoid.
Hola is an Israeli company which provides a free VPN via a browser add-on. Their solution is built on P2P (peer-to-peer) technology, which means that they have no servers. Instead, when you connect to a VPN location in, say, Armenia, you traffic is basically routed through a computer of some guy in Armenia, another Hola user. And guess what. People around the world will also use your Internet connection for their “VPN”.
Are you prepared to share your Internet connection with strangers? It doesn’t seem like a great idea in the slightest.
I don’t recommend using Hola, but it can come handy in a very particular scenario: you need to route your traffic through an uncommon location. How many VPN providers offer an Armenia server after all? In this case, turn Hola on, complete your research and turn it off.
Opera is a popular free browser that offers a “VPN” option. The Opera VPN is not actually a VPN, it’s just a web proxy, which means that your traffic is not encrypted. Your traffic is also logged and sold to third parties, so better avoid Opera “VPN”.
Hotspot Shield is a popular VPN service from the US that appeals to mainly privacy illiterate users. They offer a free VPN service, but in exchange the users are subject to injected ads. Which is ridiculous for a privacy service. Your bandwidth is also very limited when on a free tier.
Basically, their business model is to make you download their “free VPN” app, then annoy you with advertisements and bandwidth limitations until you finally purchase a subscription for their very average service. Nope.
Any Android “Free VPN” App
Too numerous to list, a big number of Android VPN apps contains malware, spyware, adware, third-party trackers and present privacy risks like DNS leaks. According to security researchers, over 38% of Android VPN apps contain some kind of malware.
18% of the apps have no encryption at all, 84% have IPv6 leaks and 66% leak DNS eliminating any privacy benefits. 16% of the apps route traffic through other users of the same apps (Hola-style).
Absolutely never download and install any of these apps. These ones are definitely worse than using no VPN at all.
Instead, we recommend using a VPN app from an established vendor like F-Secure’s Freedome.
Anything US/UK based
This is probably more controversial than the other blacklist members. USA and UK together with the the other 5 eyes countries (Australia, New Zealand and Canada) are conducting mass surveillance program on an unprecedented scale, and there is every reason to believe that VPN providers in these countries are legally required to get on with the program.
This is definitely a serious privacy issue which demands a lot of consideration. We feel that it’s currently safer to use a VPN provider which is not located in one of the these jursidictions. The best jurisdiction for a privacy-oriented VPN is probably a neutral European country.