There are over 250 apps in the Google Play Store that pop up when you search for VPN, but not all of them are worth downloading. Even more - most of them you should stay far away from, and never install on your device.
Why? A VPN app is all about security. The main reason you want to use VPN is to hide your online activity from your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and make sure your personal info or your web traffic stats do not fall into the wrong hands. This is why trust and credibility are the most important assets of any VPN provider. You are placing your trust in those apps and want to be sure that your personal data does not get collected, nor does any data get shared with government agencies when asked for.
The first criteria assessed was company information. The location of the company's headquarters is important as it can place the app in a not-so-ideal jurisdiction. If you haven't heard of the Five-Eyes, Nine-Eyes and 14-Eyes alliances (UKUSA Agreement) then these are intelligence alliances between countries to share data and intelligence. The existence of said treaties was kept under wraps and was only revealed to the public in 2005. A country that is part of any of those alliances might not be the best location to headquarter a VPN company.
- Five Eyes: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States
- Nine Eyes: Five Eyes + Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway
- 14 Eyes: Nine Eyes + Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden
Israel, Singapore, and Japan are also collaborating with Five Eyes and reportedly Japan and Germany started collaborating since 2018.
So if the developer behind any of the VPNs is located in one of those intelligence-sharing alliances they might not be the best option if you are into super-shady business. But you might be OK turning the other cheek if the company itself is reputable and you have no plans to engage in illegal activities (which you shouldn’t!).
Out of the 50 Apps we investigated 16 belonged in one of the alliances and 5 collaborate with them. For 8 apps we were unable to track the company or a person behind the app so the location remained unknown.
Unlimited Free VPN Monster and Snap VPN have different companies associated with the apps, but digging a bit deeper you can clearly see they have the same people behind them. Take a look at their websites and see if you can spot the differences.
“We may share information with third-party vendors and service providers that provide services on our behalf, such as helping to provide our Services, for promotional and/or marketing purposes, and to provide you with information relevant to you such as product announcements, software updates, special offers, or other information.”
A VPN that shares data with third parties makes you question if you want to trust your data with that company.
“Among the types of Personal Data that VPN Russia by tap2free collects, by itself or through third parties, there are: Cookies, Usage Data, unique device identifiers for advertising (Google Advertiser ID or IDFA, for example) and geographic position.”
What specifically this Usage Data is and why and with whom exactly your Unique Device Identifiers are shared remains unclear.
You would expect that kind of suspect terms from dodgy apps sitting at the bottom of the search results page but this is from the top 50 Apps that mostly have a rating over 4.0.
In fact, 48 out of 50 had an average user score of 4.0 or above, 22 of them had scores of 4.5 or over.
All of the Apps had install counts over 100,000 and some of the Apps even over 1,000,000. Wang VPN with a record score of 4.9 has 170,478 reviews and over 1 million installs.
How many of those installs and reviews are fake, we can not tell. But considering how easy it is to buy Android app installs and user ratings we can only imagine how artificially bloated the scores are. Digitaltrends has dug into this topic in depth.
One thing we also noticed during the research is that there are plenty of VPN apps that try to masquerade themselves and try to copy the big brand VPN. This is not, of course, unusual but users should pay attention and not install a copycat but make sure they pick the correct app.
Express VPN for example, has three blatant knockoffs that catch the eye immediately and can be mistaken for the original if not careful.
A VPN app is supposed to hide and secure your online activities. If you can't fully trust the app or the company behind it, you might want to reconsider your choices and stick to the ones that have a long reputable history and have been tried and tested by verified VPN sites.