Free VPN Fail: Hotspot Shield, Opera Max & More

Choosing between a free service and a paid VPN service has its pros and cons. But at what point is saving a few bucks worth giving up your privacy?

Free VPN Services Are Losing Support

Opera has officially announced that they will be discontinuing Opera Max. Accordingly, Opera Max was their data compression app for Android. Opera Max worked by setting up a VPN connection to Opera from your Android mobile phone. Your data would be funneled through their secure connection and compressed. This process cuts down the amount of bandwidth used on your cell phone data plan.

From the announcement:

“Opera has now decided to discontinue Opera Max. The product had a substantially different value proposition than our browser products, and represented a different focus for Opera. We, therefore, focus on our browsers and other upcoming services.”

This could mean bad news for their actual VPN service as well, Opera VPN. The company is now focusing purely on their browser technology and various other services. With this, Opera’s free VPN service could ultimately be discontinued.

The app has now been discontinued from the Google Play Store. Current users of the app will be able to continue using it until Opera inevitably shuts down their servers.

Services That Could Spy On You

With Opera Max being discontinued, another new app comes into play. Kaspersky Labs has released a beta version of its Kaspersky Secure Connection app. This app is utilized the same way as Opera Max, only it limits you to 200MB of daily traffic. But can this app be trusted?

Kaspersky Lab’s products are installed in over 400 million computers worldwide and are often used in homes, businesses, as well as government agencies. This is a cause for concern because the FBI is investigating Kaspersky Lab’s ties to the Russian government.

At the Healthcare IT News and HIMSS Privacy and Security Forum, CynergisTek CEO Mac McMillan raised the concern about potential backdoors:

“Are there backdoors, are there things that other actors can take advantage of? We know it’s possible. To think it’s not is naive, I never say never. As long as geopolitical interests are involved, just about anything is possible.”

Untrustworthy Services

If you have ever tried finding a free VPN, you have probably come across Hotspot Shield. Hotspot Shield has over 500 million worldwide users that use their service to skirt censorship laws and access regional restrictions on various streaming services. David Gorodynasky, CEO of parent company AnchorFree, stated that around 97% of their users use the free, ad-enabled version of Hotspot Shield.

In spite of Gorodynasky stating that he puts his user’s privacy over his profits and that he doesn’t collect or store user’s data, the Center for Democracy & Technology believes otherwise.

Hotspot Shield has been allegedly tracking their user’s behavior and directing their browsers to sponsored advertisers for profit. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have reverse engineered the source code and found that the free VPN service users more than five different third-party tracking libraries, despite stating that they promise anonymous and secure private web browsing.

The complaint filed by the Center for Democracy & Technology to the Federal Trade Commission states that the free VPN app also monitors information about users’ browsing habits while in use, as well as transmits some sensitive cell carrier information over an unencrypted connection.

Free VPN Options

In a world where privacy and trust are huge issues, there are still a few options that will keep you safe without hurting your wallet.

One service that offers a free option is Windscribe. Windscribe’s free VPN service offers support for 1 device and 8 server locations with up to 10GB/Month of bandwidth. The paid version of this service is only $7.50 per month but offers unlimited devices, 46 different server locations, as well as unlimited bandwidth.

Another free option is hide.me, which offers support for 1 device, 3 server locations, but only 2GB/Month of bandwidth. The next step up is only $4.00 per month but grants you access to over 30 different server locations as well as raising your bandwidth cap to 75GB/Month.

The Downside of Free VPN Services

Unfortunately, these free services are have some very limiting aspects as well

  • No router support. Most free service and options limit connections to only one device and do not offer router support. f they did, the speeds offered and the rotation of the servers would make it very hard to manage.
  • “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”: the VPN company may not be charging you in currency, but they may be selling your information.
  • Severe limits in servers, service level, speeds and consistencyuse of the service.

Try Before You Buy VPNs

Sometimes, you want to dip your feet in the water before you jump in. Some VPN providers let you do this by offering 30-day money-back guarantees.

Popular providers like ExpressVPN and NordVPN offer this guarantee while also offering some of the best VPN services available. With either of these providers, you’ll have unlimited, private, and secure access to your favorite websites from anywhere in the world. ExpressVPN offers a 1-year plan for $8.32 per month while NordVPN offers its 1-year plan for $5.75 per month.

Not only do these providers allow multiple simultaneous connected devices, they have excellent router connection support as well.

Reasons to Choose a VPN with Router Support

With a VPN service that supports router support, you don’t need to worry about how many connected devices your plan limits you to.

A FlashRouter enables you to connect your router to your VPN service. This effectively protects and privatizes your entire home network.

Benefits of FlashRouters

Since the above-mentioned free services do not have VPN router support, it is smart to pay for a plan in order to keep your devices secure.

Once you choose between Windscribe, ExpressVPN, or various other supported services, you can check out some of our recommended routers:

Linksys WRT1900ACS DD-WRT RouterR7800 Nighthawk DD-WRT RouterAsus RT-AC5300 DD-WRT Router
Wireless-AC1900 Mbps
1.6 Ghz Marvell Processor
4 Ext Antennas
Wireless-AC2600 Mbps
1.7 Ghz Broadcom Processor
4 Ext Antennas
Wireless-AC5300 Mbps
1.4 GHz Marvell Processor
8 Ext Antennas

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