When it comes to proxies and VPNs, the ones that don’t charge you money actually end up costing you the most by draining your privacy and security. You might have noticed how most streaming services are blocked abroad or not yet available in your country. The most common solutions to bypass such geo-restrictions are proxies and VPNs, since they reroute your traffic to make it appear as if you’re located somewhere else. For example, using such a services allows someone in England to access Pandora, or a user in Canada to use British BBC iPlayer.

There are tons of different options available that allow you to change your location to access restricted content, and since everyone enjoys things that are free, people often fall victim to scams through free VPNs. When it comes to proxies and VPNs, the ones that don’t charge you money will cost you the most in privacy and security. Below, we’ll tell you exactly how free VPNs use your connection for dangerous activities (even illegal) and how a reputable, paid premium VPN service can let you access blocked sites while also saving your privacy!

The Dangers of Proxies and Free VPNs

“Free” isn’t completely free when it comes to accessing blocked websites through free VPNs and proxies. These services actually allow malicious third-parties to snoop through your personal data, or, even worse, let others use your internet connection to conduct illegal activities on the web. Free VPNs can log and keep track of all your content, your IP address, the types of sites you visit, etc.- the exact thing VPNs are meant to protect you from. In addition to privacy issues you would want to hide your IP, you may experience slow browsing speed, unstable connections, data usage caps, and outdated encryption.

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Worst of all.. Many of these “free” services will sell your personal information to third parties, with some even going as far as placing extra advertising (sometimes malicious). They may even distribute your IP address, welcoming criminal activity that is traced back to your machine, not theirs.

Don’t let us forget to mention proxies as well! Since a proxy just forwards your internet traffic without encrypting it, they can read all of your personal data. That means your private information sent over the unsecured connection can be captured and kept by the operator. If they’re dishonest, they can then do whatever they want with it – often by selling it to third parties or stealing your identity.

Essentially, VPNs are safer, more stable and faster than proxies – but popular free VPN servers aren’t always as safe as they claim to be.

How Free VPNs Use Your Connection

It is important to research the VPN service you’d like to use before jumping into it simply for convenience. Although it may not sound that harmful, giving a shady site or service full access to every detail of your browsing activities can have worse consequences than you think.

For example, the popular free VPN service Hotspot Shield was recently accused of spying on its user’s traffic. A U.S. digital rights advocacy group has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) claiming the service tracks, intercepts and collects its customers’ data. Although their privacy policy promises to keep all user information secure and anonymous, they have been found to log connections, monitor users’ browsing habits, sell customer data to advertisers and redirect online traffic. This current controversy serves as a reminder that free VPNs must make money some how, and it’s often at your expense.

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In the past, you might even remember Hola Unblocker, a service that sold users’ spare bandwidth allowing their connection to be used for malicious Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks and illegal purposes — accessing anything from copyrighted content to images of child abuse.

The Secure Solution to Access Blocked Websites

Paid-for services make profits by offering security without selling your personal details to third parties. A free VPN server may lead to detrimental things such as identity theft, while a paid VPN can (though not all) keep your information private and secure.

Unless your data is tunneled over HTTPS (that’s when you see a lock symbol in your browser’s address bar), it can easily be stolen by others since it’s sent over an unsecure connection and isn’t encrypted. A proper VPN encrypts all your data, keeping it safe from snoopers and hackers.