From Google’s Play Store
Running a search through Google’s Play Store for a “Free VPN” will lead you to ample results for all kinds of VPN apps for your Android, all seemingly at no cost to download.
While the scantily-clad girls on the top free VPN apps results may simultaneously pique your interest or question their credibility, your first step should always be to check on their privacy policies before actually downloading them.
Recently, a team of researchers published a report with the University of New South Wales and the University of Berkeley after analysing the privacy features of 283 Android VPN apps. After scouring the behaviour of each VPN-based app and their app permissions, their research uncovered shocking findings.
Out of the 283 Android mobile VPN apps:
- 18% did not in fact encrypt traffic at all.
- 38% injected malware or malvertising on devices.
- 84% leaked users’ traffic.
- Majority of the apps (80%) request access to sensitive data like user accounts and text messages.
- 75% used third party tracking libraries.
(Analysis of the full report found here.)
“FREE” IS NOT ALWAYS FREE
Unfortunately for the tens of millions of users who downloaded these ‘free’ mobile VPN apps, they were probably also downloading a free data harvesting tool (with the catch of the data being their own).
Even just looking at the results when searching for free mobile VPNs, it is a surprise to see Hola VPN listed among the top. Given the wide criticism they received when they were discovered to be selling their users’ bandwidth in a peer-to-peer system, any user who may have otherwise been uncomfortable with that idea could be unaware of this and went ahead with their download.
Free VPNs in general always raise a question mark (indeed many question marks). How are these VPN companies making any income to sustain servers? What are their privacy and activity logging policies? Are they selling customer data? How are they maintaining support for their subscribers?
ANDROID USERS, BEWARE
There is always a danger when downloading a free mobile VPN, or any free app for that matter. Apple has more rigorous App Store guidelines. Every app is vetted for approval by a human to maintain tight control over the OS. On the other hand, Android users are more susceptible to clones and rip-off apps in the Google Play Store due to its ‘openness’, which makes security more of a concern for Android users.
Here are BolehVPN’s tips to avoid the dangers lurking in free apps.
- Mind the permissions. Check what information the app is attempting to access and question if an app may be asking for access to items which seem unrelated.
- Download only from reputable app stores. Avoid file-sharing sites.
- Click “No” to granting permission on apps requesting to track geographical data.
- Download from reputable publishers. If you are not familiar with the company, you can always search for info about the developer and app.
- Be wary of fake apps. Popular games often attract phony spin-offs which may be malicious.
- Run an antivirus on your mobile.