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Free VPN Tools May Be Linked To China

A new investigation by Metric Labs of the top free VPN (Virtual Private Network) apps in Apple’s App Store and Google Play has revealed that more than half are run by companies with Chinese ownership.

What’s A VPN?

A ‘Virtual Private Network’ (VPN) is generally used to keep internet activity private, evade censorship / maintain net neutrality and use public Wi-Fi securely e.g. avoid threats such as man-in-the-middle attacks.  A VPN achieves this by diverting a user’s traffic via a remote server in order to replace their IP address while offering the user a secure, encrypted connection (like a secure tunnel) between the user’s device and the VPN service.

Popular Free Apps

VPNs (Forbes, 2017) are the most searched-for apps in the world, partly because people have become much more concerned with privacy and they have become more afraid of government surveillance of their digital activities.  For example, the UK government’s Investigatory Powers Bill), which was passed into 29th November 2016 as the Investigatory Powers Act (“Snooper’s charter”) means that a large list of UK agencies, including various police forces and government departments, can ask for any UK citizen’s stored browsing history (details of every website and instant messaging apps that you have visited or used in the past 12 months).

China Links To Free VPNs – Security & Privacy Concerns

Bearing in mind that the main reason for getting a VPN is to preserve your privacy and security, the problem with the results of the Metric Labs survey is that they show that over half of the top free VPN apps that people can find e.g. in the App Store and Play Store for UK and US, have Chinese ownership or are based in China.

The problem with being linked to (or based in) China, according to the report about the Metric Labs (top10vpn) survey, is that China tightly controls access to the Internet from within the country, has clamped down on VPN services, and many of the free VPN services with links to China offer little or no privacy protection and no user support.

How Bad Are They?

The investigation revealed that 17 of the 30 top free VPN apps available from simple online searches have links to China and 86% of those apps have security issues.  It was also discovered that 64% of apps have no dedicated website, and 86% of apps have unacceptable privacy policies with many being presented in an amateur fashion e.g. posted on a Free WordPress sites with ads.  Some of the privacy policies either give no information about the sharing of information with third parties, have no privacy policy at all, use a stock privacy policy not related to VPNs, or simply state that information will be shared with China.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When you bear in mind that the reason for downloading a VPN app is to preserve privacy, the results of this investigation indicate that simply trusting one of the free VPN apps available online, and without pausing to look at its privacy information or look too much into it could be a mistake.  If your privacy is valuable to you (and you’ve not already been provided with a trusted VPN), it may be worth seeking out a trusted paid-for service. There are many lists available online from Tech magazines that offer useful comparisons and information to help you choose a VPN that will give you the right levels of performance and security.

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