A VPN may seem like the perfect solution to many of your privacy problems online. After all, a VPN hides your IP address, encrypts your data, and unlocks protected content through the IP address. In short, it gives security, anonymity and freedom.
However, everything has its downsides. Below, you can read what disadvantages a VPN could have, as well as the big difference between free and paid VPNs.
Some common disadvantages of VPN services
A VPN connection can affect your use of the Internet in a number of ways. Some of the most common are:
- A slower internet connection
- Specific blocks to VPN services (for example, by Netflix)
- Illegal use of the VPNs themselves
- Not knowing how strong the encryption provided by the VPN is
- The registration and possible resale to third parties of your Internet habits
- Loss of connection
- An unjustified sense of impunity when being connected
- Free VPNs: Sometimes Worse Than Having None
Below, you can find each of these examples explained in more detail. We explain why you may experience a slowdown and how a VPN can get you blocked. Also, you can read about the legality of using a VPN in different countries. We will also try to help you with any difficulties you may encounter when evaluating the security of a VPN and to what extent it is truly anonymous.
With most of these issues in mind, we can help you find a suitable provider that won’t cause you too much trouble. However, some may have a bigger impact on your experience when using a VPN. Find out before hiring a VPN, so you don’t get disappointed.
If you are simply looking for a very high quality VPN and want to avoid many of the possible downsides, a VPN service like ExpressVPN is worth investing in. It costs several euros a month, yes, but in return, you get great service.
Depending on the VPN provider you choose, you may experience particular disadvantages. To make sure you won’t encounter any unpleasant surprises, read our review of the VPN you plan to purchase.
A VPN can slow you down
Because the Internet connection with a VPN is redirected and encrypted through the VPN server, your Internet connection might slow down slightly. This is why it is important to check the speed of a VPN when you are testing it. You can find a great section regarding speed in all of our reviews. Most premium VPN services like NordVPN and ExpressVPN won’t slow down your internet connection too much, but the speed rarely stays the same.
Most Internet users will not notice the difference. Those who do things online that need a fast connection may have some issues with the wrong VPN. For example, gamers who want to play multiplayer online games should look for the best VPNs for games, to ensure that they will not experience any lag.
You may run the risk of being blocked by certain services
Some services discourage the use of a VPN. This usually means that there is something that you are not supposed to have access to, but you do with a VPN.
For example, some governments block certain content from their citizens because they think it is inappropriate or threatens their values. Or sometimes certain content providers block users from other countries because they simply haven’t paid part of the licence price, for example.
This is the case with the BBC iPlayer. You can use a VPN to bypass these restrictions and access the content anyway. For this reason, VPNs are not very popular with these governments. This can even lead to a blanket ban on all VPNs.
VPNs are also blocked by streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Because these companies have contracts with movie distributors that only allow them to show some content in specific countries, they have started going against VPNs. With a VPN, you can access content from another country on these streaming services. Since Netflix might not have the rights to show such content in your country, they are fighting against the use of VPNs. They do this by blocking the IP addresses that access their service with large numbers of users at the same time.
For example, when you access them through a shared IP address at the same time as other users. This can be very annoying if you just want to watch a movie. Fortunately, there are some VPN providers that make sure there is always a server that you can use to watch Netflix. If you want a premium VPN that lets you use Netflix, check out ExpressVPN.
VPNs are not legal in all countries
Although it can be considered suspicious, the use of a VPN is legal in most countries. In fact, most large companies and corporations use a VPN as part of their security. However, there are some exceptions. Some countries want to have complete control over what their citizens can see on the Internet. Because a VPN can be used to bypass government censorship, it is illegal in some totalitarian countries.
In some countries, like Russia and China, you can only use government-approved VPNs. Using a VPN isn’t necessarily illegal there, but they want to keep control over it. However, some quality VPN providers, such as NordVPN, have developed special “obfuscated servers” that should be able to be used in countries like China, even if the government does not allow it.
In other countries, such as North Korea, using a VPN is completely prohibited, which means that you are not allowed to use a VPN. However, this is only a problem if you live in one of the countries that restricts or prohibits the use of VPNs.
It is difficult for consumers to verify the quality of the encryption
It can be difficult to know if VPN providers really do what they promise. You often find out that they don’t when something goes wrong. The average user does not know about cryptography. Is the service provided really that safe? For this reason, analytics are quite important in this branch. Before you commit to a subscription with a VPN provider, it’s smart to read some (user) reviews and analysis.
In our reviews, you can find out what logs a provider says they keep and read more about the overall quality and security of the VPN. This includes a brief explanation of what protocols and types of encryption the VPN provider uses. You can find reviews of all the big VPN providers on our website. You can also check our main recommendations.
The registration and possible resale of your Internet habits to third parties
The idea of hiring a subscription from a VPN provider is that it directs Internet traffic through its servers. They encrypt your data and allow you to use one of their many servers to hide the IP address as well.
This means that you must have confidence in your VPN, that they will not abuse the data that travels through their servers. You have essentially paid for security and anonymity. Many VPN providers keep their end of the deal and thoroughly ignore your personal data. They do not record what you do or store your data.
However, some VPN providers do log the data. Many free VPNs do (more on this later) and some providers make it clear in their licence agreement that they can. Of course, this leaves the purpose of hiring a VPN service to nothing. But these are not the worst cases. The really worrisome cases are those of paid VPN providers who claimed they didn’t log anything, but were later found to be doing so.
For example, the FBI asked a VPN provider (HideMyAss) to provide information about one of their clients due to suspicion of illegal activities on the dark web. Although the company initially refused, they ended up handing out very specific logs about the user, including login times, downloads, bandwidth usage, etc.
This cautionary tale reminds us once again to look at multiple sources and analysis before signing up with a VPN provider.
Loss of connection
Many VPN providers include an emergency button in their software. This is a very useful feature. When the connection to the VPN server is disconnected, you are suddenly unprotected and what you do will be tied to your real IP address. To avoid this, the emergency button immediately interrupts your entire internet connection and is only restored once the connection to the VPN is re-established.
The downside to this is that, well, you are no longer connected to the internet. However, with quality VPN providers, you can rarely run into this problem.
An unjustified sense of impunity when being connected
Some believe that their VPN connection makes them completely anonymous and that they are not affected by malware. This leads to the false belief that they are untouchable on the Internet. It is clear that this is not the case.
Even with a strong and stable VPN connection, you can still:
- Be followed all over the web by advertisers, trackers, hackers, intelligence agencies, etc.
- Being a target and falling prey to phishing attacks
- Get infected with some kind of malware
- That certain networks, databases, deep web pages, etc. are blocked.
VPNs ensure that your data is encrypted, your IP address is hidden, and that you can gain access to content that was previously unavailable to foreigners. But if a hacker or intelligence agency wants to track you down, there are other ways to identify you besides your IP address. Your IP address is only the first clue they might look at.
As such, a VPN connection is anything but a licence to engage in derogatory, illegal, or reckless behaviour on the Internet. Always use common sense and be careful.
Free VPNs: Sometimes it’s worse than having none
Some choose to try a free VPN service. There is nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, however, many free VPN providers were not designed to provide the average user with more privacy and anonymity on the Internet, but solely to make money.
A good example is Hola VPN, a VPN service that you should stay away from. This type of VPN is not dedicated to selling a VPN service, but to selling your personal data to third parties.
When you use a VPN service, it directs your traffic through its servers. You pay them a subscription fee, they encrypt the data, and they promise not to record or store all of your data. However, many free VPN services make money by selling your data to, for example, advertisers. In this case, it is better not to have any VPN services and instead
Many free VPN providers also have data caps, speed limits, ads, and download restrictions. It’s just not a pleasant experience due to these limitations. Also, many free VPN apps are not secure as they contain spyware or malware. Be careful before trying some free VPN services. If you want to try one or two, check out our article on the top free VPN providers. A free VPN that has our seal of approval is ProtonVPN.
The main disadvantages of a VPN are annoying, but they do not necessarily affect the majority of users. Most of the problems are with free or cheaper VPN services. For example, in some cases, your internet connection may even be faster after connecting to a VPN provider.
This can happen when your ISP drops your connection. A VPN service encrypts your data, making it much less likely that your ISP will try to drown the connection. In this scenario, your connection is more secure and faster.
Also, locks designed specifically for VPN services are not always a problem. Netflix cannot, and does not block, all VPN servers. Many VPN providers have quick and easy access to Netflix around the world.
There are also VPNs that don’t have an emergency button. In this way, the Internet connection does not drop suddenly, although this makes you less secure.
Finally, there really are some potential downsides when using a VPN service. However, many of these are very limited if you use a quality provider. The best thing to do is carefully consider which VPN provider is the best for you.