Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are essential for safe and secure online browsing. Many people assume that opting for a free service will give them the same safety features as a reliable VPN does. While some VPNs offer comprehensive free versions such as UltraVPN, this is not the case for the majority of free VPNs.
Most free VPNs are laden with vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit. Some VPNs even go one step further and keep intrusive features on purpose. For this reason, we have to be careful of which service we trust our sensitive information with.
People should not choose free VPNs over paid VPN services. A great number of free VPNs such as Betternet have the tendency to monetize their services through other ways. These services can sell your data, blast you with intrusive ads and dull down their performance.
However, Betternet claims to be different than most free VPN services. They brand their services as private and secure and better than other free VPN services. That being said, it’s important to sift through the application yourself. In this article, we have mentioned the pros and cons of using Betternet and why it’s wiser to consider an alternative.
It’s not uncommon for people to hear about Betternet for the first time. After all, the company was launched just a few years ago in 2015. Since the company’s inception, Betternet has been attracting many people to its user base. The company’s growth has been rapid; thanks to the many free services they offer.
Betternet is available on multiple platforms. The VPN’s inter-platform compatibility is also crucial to its growth. Though the Android app is most popular among other platforms, people can use Betternet VPN on iOS, Windows, Linux and Mac as well.
The web browser extensions for the application are available too. Users can install the VPN on their Firefox and Google Chrome web browsers without any charges. Also, you don’t have to go through complex signups for using the application. Instead of registering with your email address or name, you can start using the application instantly.
The application does sound too good to be true. As we’ve discussed in the past, VPN services are expensive to maintain. So, it’s always fishy when a VPN service provider offers free services.
On most occasions, these VPN providers have to scrape off their revenue through other channels. In the past, we have seen many VPN services trying to bolster their profits through unfair means.
Upon sifting through Betternet, we can see that the VPN relies a lot on affiliate apps and videos. It makes money through these affiliate applications by serving them through its own application.
It’s clear that whenever a user taps on an “Install an App” button or “watch a video” icon, Betternet receives a payment. These intrusive advertisements are one of the VPN’s main assets and help keep its services stay afloat. For the most part of Betternet’s journey, these advertisements were sufficient.
However, since 2017, Betternet started to realize that they would have to do more to sustain themselves. Rising costs of operation forced them to release a “premium” version of their mobile application.
The premium version had exclusive features, such as dedicated servers and increased server locations. Moreover, users had the option to access 24/7 tech support and also enhanced IP selection choices. The VPN also introduced a 7-day trial for luring customers into the premium VPN version.
However, the total number of servers remained as insufficient as they were before. Even with the premium version, VPN users could only access 11 servers in 10 countries. That being said, it was an improvement considering that users could choose their own servers. Moreover, premium users were given the privilege of choosing any one of the 7 server locations in the US.
Before the premium version, users couldn’t choose the server they wanted to connect to. Betternet decided the servers for free users and the one out of their domain.
The Betternet VPN is a product Betternet LLC Inc. – a company based in Canada. It’s interesting that the company has headquarters in a country renowned for being a “Five Eye Surveillance” country. This means that the country can easily coerce the VPN service to spill out user data at the government’s behest.
Even if you need access to the Canadian servers, there are far better services to choose from. A VPN in a country that isn’t bound to share user information is always a more suitable option for privacy-centric users.
However, the Betternet website claims that it has more than 38 million users all over the world. In addition, they also state that their application is the “#1 VPN app” in the Apple store and Google Play Store. Millions of users trusting Betternet for privacy and security is something to be concerned about.
Nevertheless, Betternet VPN has plenty of reasonable features that make it unique from other free services. In our Betternet VPN review; we will include the pros of the application as well.
This is perhaps one of Betternet’s best features. As we’ve mentioned before, the VPN application is 100% free. It distinguishes it from most VPN services.
Many people don’t care for privacy and security and just want to mask their IP. These people may have different intentions, but some of them have no need for a secure connection. Other users frown upon the prospect of paying for the software services they use. These users prefer not to pay for and hesitate using even the cheapest service.
Betternet VPN can be an automatic choice for such users.
In the past, many companies have caved in front of a DMCA takedown notice and spilled out user data. Betternet VPN will also do its best to comply with the DMCA act, but they’ll be wary of sharing their user data.
According to them, they have never received a court order that instructs them to provide data they don’t have. So, Betternet has largely surpassed the limbo of log policy, which many VPNs struggle to get through.
We have discussed a lot about the VPN’s inability to provide secure and private connections to users. So, it’s bemusing for some readers to find us taking about the VPN’s enhanced privacy and security technology.
The kind of security technology Betternet offers is only found among top-tier services. According to a blog post in 2015, the company offers 256-bit AES encryption on the OpenVPN tunneling protocol. In addition, the VPN provider offers a decent 128 –bit encryption over its IPSec tunneling protocol.
However, its Canadian background is a chink in the VPN’s armor. Being a member of the Five Eye Surveillance group makes the country liable to share information about shady VPN users. This isn’t directly a big security drawback but it can be unsettling for some people.
Open VPN tunneling protocol is one of the most advanced protocols in the VPN industry. So, it’s surprising to see a VPN taunted for lack of security having such a feature in their arsenal. OpenVPN encryption is the golden standard for secure tunneling in the VPN industry.
OpenVPN excels at keeping miscreants away and stops them from spying on your connection. This tunneling protocol also protects users from ISP throttling. In addition, users can get relief from site blocking at cafes and school campuses, which is great to have.
However, we’re not sure when does the VPN provider use OpenVPN services and when it transfers it to IPSec. The IPSec is an older and less secure tunneling protocol and is generally used on old devices.
Nevertheless, IPSec isn’t a bad bargain at all. This tunneling protocol offers decent security on its own. Moreover, the protocol is compatible with the Tor browser, so you can get extra security if you connect to it.
Still, this luxury doesn’t extend to routers. It automatically means that any thought using OpenVPN for other devices is off the table. Devices such as smart TVs and gaming consoles won’t be able to benefit from this.
Moreover, beyond a strong tunneling protocol, the VPN service fails to provide any other extensive security features. So it pales in comparison with other fully featured VPNs. Adding to that, there are other gaping loopholes in the VPN’s security that negate their strong security technology.
Betternet only offers its premium members 24/7 customer support. However, it’s nice to have such a feature in a VPN. Though the application lacks live chat option, having it isn’t always necessary.
The Betternet team on twitter does a fair job helping their customers. Customer queries on the social media website are sent over the VPN’s standard system.
Betternet’s standard customer support system is the back-bone of its user support. Other mediums are not as effective as one would like. The application’s FAQ system is not bare-bones itself but you have to sift through a lot of things to get what you want.
Ultimately, people have to refer to the standard query mechanism of the VPN to have their problems solved. It’s plausible to consider this customer support insufficient. However, many VPNs have worse customer support than this. So, at least the customer support is useful for the majority of users.
It’s hard to get lost in the VPN’s easy-to-use interface. After opening the application, you can see a large gray connect icon and the most recent server location.
Betternet may not be a good option to connect to your favorite location. However, the VPN has a pretty sleek design. The lack of some features makes the application quite straightforward. It means that it’s easy-to-use the application, especially when you don’t have to connect to a special server.
Even its immediate use after download isn’t complex. All you have to do to get started is download the application. After that, there’s no need put in user credentials if you don’t want to. You only have to connect to the VPN application and start using it.
However, the mobile application is a bit different in this regard. The mobile application starts off from a 7-day free trial of the premium application (which you have to cancel on time). Still, Betternet VPN is user-friendly overall.
As we’ve discussed before, experts raise several questions regarding Betternet VPN. We address some of their concerns here.
Betternet may be immensely popular, but it’s impossible to ignore the VPN’s security risks. In 2017, a group of experts started a joint academic study of unsafe VPNs. In their report, these experts investigated whether a VPN was injecting malware or adware. The report also highlighted any VPNs that did not provide the security they advertised.
Betternet was among the list of 10 worst VPNs in that report. While other VPN services got removed from the list after that incident, Betternet is still lurking inside play stores.
Its popularity indicates it doesn’t inject harmful malware in user systems. This also speaks for its credibility. However, getting ranked the 4th worst VPN in an academic is damaging for its reputation. Moreover, it has closely contested to being the third-worst VPN in the list. Along with that, a 13 AV rank is below par, even for an average VPN.
It’s true that everyone hates seeing advertisements. Whether it’s during their favorite TV programs or in-between applications, they are annoying. In Betternet’s case, unless you buy the premium version, be ready to get loaded with ads on your screen. However, it’s also understandable that there’s no free lunch in this world. Ads are the price you pay to use a free service.
Still, the application is somewhat transparent regarding how it makes money. Betternet has pointed out details on its website about how it makes money and where the money goes. The affiliate downloads from those ads pay for the operation and maintenance of servers. For everything else, the premium subscriptions cut down the deficit.
Still, no one can deny that the VPN is selling access to customers. The free version might not sound so benevolent considering that the VPN sells intrusive ads on your screen. Some people may also find it a lot more convenient to use a cheaper VPN instead of bearing annoying ads.
The documentation can get quite ambiguous at certain places. At one place, it might claim that the VPN has 256-bit AES encryption. At other places, it claims that it only has 128-bit encryption.
The website is also a bit unclear about the information the VPN service keeps. The following excerpt from its website also raises a few questions about its “zero-log policy”.
The website mentions that the VPN collects the user’s name, email, IP address and the device ID. However, it further clarifies that it doesn’t attribute those details to a user’s online activity.
Still, it’s worrying that why a VPN keeps the original IP address of a user if it has no use of it. Furthermore, storing the device ID is also suspicious considering the fact that it brands itself as a no-log VPN service.
Whatever the issue may be, there is a fair amount of ambiguity in the application’s documentation on the website. Even if you’re looking for answers on the website documentation, you’ll find plenty of contradicting statements. So, investigate in detail if you want to find out about something other than the application’s basics.
Though free VPNs aren’t exactly known for speedy browsing, Betternet VPN lowers the bar even further. The drop in speed after using the VPN is just unbelievable. According to a review by VPN mentor, the VPN only managed 14.2% of the original speed on some US servers.
The speed test conducted by the website had a 70MBps connection. The test was set to verify the VPN’s claim of being “Super-fast” which it credits to its optimal server feature. However, during the test, the VPN struggled to establish a connection with standard speed.
The website also reported that, initially they had problems with getting connected to the VPN. The application loaded for around 30 seconds before disconnecting again. However, this improved after the website handlers connected to a server manually. Still, it took the application several seconds to connect.
To the moderator’s surprise, the VPN fared better on UK servers which were far from the tester’s location. Still, the speed got reduced to a grueling 31.4% of the original speed and barely clocked up to 22 Mbps.
However, the VPN’s best speed in that test was at Frankfurt. The top speed at the German servers clocked up to almost 57Mbps which is on par with the standards.
The drop in speed in the US servers is an indication that there is a lot of extra traffic on US servers. This lack of versatility in the US servers brings us to our next point…
The VPN only has a limited amount of servers to its name. This is the reason that it is plagued from inconsistent speeds. The VPN also struggles to handle traffic efficiently. Even premium users cannot access more than 10 countries for VPN use.
Snailing speeds on the US servers prove that the amount of servers in the VPN’s inventory is insufficient. This might be the reason that the application limits free users from choosing the server they want.
It is a well-known fact that many users only use VPN services to access exclusive geo-restricted content. Well, the VPN application actually claims that it helps users access Netflix in its Apple store page. However, live tests continue to disapprove their claims.
Further up in the VPN mentor test, Betternet failed at connecting with Netflix. Unfortunately, none of the US servers in the application were successful in breaking Netflix’s comprehensive anti-VPN barriers.
Besides that, Betternet also failed against Netflix UK content. BBC iPlayer also appeared like a distant dream for Betternet users. Even the premium version of the application did no good for accessing the restricted content.
Fortunately, top-tier applications like UltraVPN and Nord VPN are known for their effectiveness against Netflix’s barriers.
The VPN supports P2P activity on all its servers. The VPN allows both premium and free users, though free users have 500MB cap limit. However, this alone cannot guarantee that the VPN would be good for torrenting. Premium users have the advantage of getting unrestricted limit of torrent download.
Despite its tolerance for torrenting, the VPN will not be able to save you if you get caught copyright infringement. The VPN says that in the event of a warrant or a court order, it will comply with law and give your identity out.
Being ratted out by the VPN isn’t the only concern for heavy torrenters. Torrent users will have to bear with inconsistent Speeds due to changing traffic and limited servers. Such factors make it painstaking for VPN users to download torrent files. You will barely get a download speed that is worth the wait.
The same research also uncovered the presence of intrusive third-party libraries in Betternet. These libraries had plagued VPN application with dangerous tracking functionalities in its Android application.
Out of all the VPN applications, Betternet had 14 of these harmful third-party tracking libraries alone. Though the VPN claims that these libraries are meant for “analytics”, these tracking functions can be dangerous for the user’s anonymity on the web.
Tracking libraries enable the VPN application to have a vulnerability that creates space for other vulnerabilities. Furthermore, these tracing functionalities are embedded in the application’s source code. This is especially disappointing because it happens despite the VPN’s claim of ensuring utmost user privacy.
Many people wonder that why do they even keep these tracking libraries in the first place if it endangers user privacy. The simple reason behind this is that user information is valuable in this data-driven world.
This has been further explained in the same report. The application uses malware and tracking as tools to collect your data. This data is then monetized to finance the free services of the VPN. Also, there are many organizations that realize the importance of data and buy it to optimize their marketing strategies.
After optimizing their strategies, these organizations apply targeted advertisement at you. Apart from having a share in the sale of the affiliate products, the service also gets commissions for sharing this data with organizations.
We can’t be 100% sure that Betternet is involved in this activity. However, this model is available everywhere and a number of companies use it to streamline their marketing.
Upon further reading of the various tests that Restore Privacy, we discovered that the VPN was also responsible for IP leaks. As we mentioned before, keeping your IP address was fishy considering they claim to have a no-log policy.
Keeping logs and tracking your online activity opens room for other vulnerabilities as well. IP leaks are one of those vulnerabilities. The website had used two websites to verify whether or not the application was good at hiding the IP of its users.
The Perfect Privacy test revealed that the VPN suffered from a privacy leak of IPv6 address. Losing your privacy on the IPv6 addresses is testament to the fact that the application has limited privacy features. This also confirms that the protection mechanism of the application isn’t up-to-date.
The result after the ipleak.net test was much worse than the previous one. The website discovered that the website was leaking both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. IPv4 leaks are a sign that the application fails at safeguarding basic privacy functions. This further invalidates the application’s standing as a good option for private browsing.
So far the main selling point of Betternet was that it was free. The application claims that users can use it as much as they want without having to pay anything. That is exactly what most people will want to know about the application’s pricing.
However, the premium pricing is fairly high-end if you leave out the annual membership. It’s surprising how costly the application is despite its several downsides. The subscription for a single month can cost users up to $11.99 a month.
However, they even this out by offering a deal on 6-month subscription and reducing the price to $3.99 a month. An annual subscription decreases the price cap down to $2.99.
Though it might seem that the application rewards its users for loyalty, the cost still is high. Even the reduced cost of annual subscription is up to par with the price of the world’s top-tier VPN services at best.
It makes this an unfair exchange considering that there are several concerns regarding the application’s commitment to privacy. Moreover, the application lacks crucial features that make Betternet a regrettable choice at best.
The following are some of the important features the website does not have:
Moreover, the VPN’s terms of service further unravels some disturbing facts about the company’s policies. The company claims that they can terminate their service at any time, without a warning. Furthermore, they wouldn’t be liable in any case; even a refund wouldn’t be in-effect.
In certain cases, they do offer the respite of pro-rating refunds, but that is annulled in the case of a breach of conduct. It doesn’t end there. If you choose to terminate your services by yourself, you would have to certify your request in writing to have your data deleted.