Since most of the larger VPN providers cost money, many people naturally gravitate towards free VPN services. But, if the free providers don’t charge any kind of subscription fee, how exactly do they make money? Here are some of the ways VPNs make money and how they affect you.
As with other free services like YouTube or Twitch, free VPN service providers can make a profit through ads.
They can appear at any time and can be a little annoying to deal with when you are trying to use the web. Moreover, they often cannot be closed, which means that you may have to waste time watching full ads when you can do something else. This can lead to a very dissonant online experience.
2. Cookies and tracking pixels
Annoying ads is not the only problem with free VPN service providers. Cookies and tracking pixels can also be used to keep tabs on your browsing activity so that companies can market to you more effectively.
You’ve probably seen the term “cookies” used when accessing a website. These are small data files that are used to remember your browsing behavior. On the other hand, tracking pixels are 1×1 pixel graphics that are hidden from view that can also track your online activity.
These two marketing tactics should have no use when the VPN is active, as your browsing activity should be completely private to you. Therefore, if your VPN uses tracking pixels and cookies, your data will be seen and used by both the service provider and third parties.
3. Freemium model
You’ve probably heard the term “freemium” before, especially when using apps. A freemium app or service offers a free version to users, but it is limited in its capabilities and features. Therefore, the upgrade to the paid version is always available. These freemium apps can be so restrictive at times that users have no choice but to upgrade if they want to access the best features. This can be the case with free VPN service providers.
Although you may never upgrade your free VPN account to the premium version, your provider may make a huge profit from users switching to a paid account.
4. VPN logs
When you use any VPN, your data is fully encrypted and private, right? not exactly. Although many VPN service providers keep your internet traffic safe, a number of free (and even some paid) VPN providers do not. This is where VPN logs come into play.
VPN logs are databases that contain information about users of a particular provider. This information can relate to your browsing history, connected devices, bandwidth, or even IP addresses. But why do VPN providers need to keep these logs? Well, data is very valuable…
With this type of user data, companies can better understand and successfully advertise to consumers. Third parties are willing to offer huge amounts of money in exchange for this valuable user data. VPN providers know this, and some choose to take advantage of it, selling data to whoever pays the highest price.
5. Sell login information
Even if the VPN provider doesn’t keep logs, there is still data available that can be sold to third parties, including your account email address. With this alone, companies and scammers alike can target you, giving them a chance to make money from you through the actions of your VPN provider.
This can give way to spam, phishing emails, and other dangerous communications that could trick you into obtaining sensitive information or money.
Free VPNs aren’t all bad, but the risks are obvious
Even free VPN providers need to make money in some way, and it’s important to keep this in mind if you’re thinking of signing up for one. While there are free VPN providers that provide a secure service to the users, many choose to profit by exploiting their users. This is why it is so important to consider a potential VPN provider to ensure that it keeps your data private and secure.