Free VPN applications for iOS and Android devices have hundreds of millions of installs across the two platforms and are also some of the most sought-after apps on Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store.
The problem behind this is that although using a VPN is good practice for anyone interested in protecting their privacy while browsing the web, finding a secure one is a highly complex and important issue.
As discovered by Simon Migliano, Metric Labs' Head of Research, the company behind the Top10VPN service, after taking a closer look at the top 20 free VPN apps from both the App Store and the Google Play store for US and UK locales, most if not all popular free mobile VPN apps have serious trustworthiness issues.
"The most popular have amassed hundreds of millions of installs between them worldwide and yet there appears to be little vetting of the companies entrusted with the responsibility for redirecting all their users’ internet traffic through their servers," said Migliano in his analysis.
Secretive Chinese companies behind a lot of free VPN apps
Given that users will have to jump through hoops to be able to get their hands on full information regarding the companies developing and maintaining most free VPN mobile applications.
Although Chinese companies can also be trustworthy, there is a big question mark regarding the intents of the entities behind them given that the Chinese government has been running a tight ship when it comes to the Internet traffic passing through their borders.
Therefore, making sure that the VPN used to protect their privacy actually has privacy protection measures in place should be a major selling point for all customers.
One should think twice before installing a free VPN on their iOS or Android device
Spoiler: the majority of free VPNs for mobile platforms come with "little-to-no formal privacy protections and non-existent user support," as Migliano found out during his research.
To be more exact, 86% of all analyzed VPN apps provide very scarce details on what they're logging, with some of them even going as far as mentioning that the data they collect is being shared with Chinese authorities.
Among other flaws the researcher found, 64% of the studied apps had no online presence beyond their store listings, 59% had direct links with Chinese entities (a problematic issue given the Chinese government's stance regarding VPNs), and in about 83% of cases, customer support requests went unanswered.
When it comes to picking a trustworthy VPN to encrypt and protect you while going about your business on the web, Migliano told us that "The problem is that App Store and Google Play search results favor free apps. You are best off searching on desktop, signing up for a service that way and then download the relevant app. Don’t start the search on an App Store."
Migliano concluded that "Apple and Google have let down consumers by failing to properly vet these app publishers, many of whom lack any sort of credible web presence and whose app store listings are riddled with misinformation. "
Detailed information on the methodology used by Migliano as well as the complete details he found regarding all the 30 free VPN apps are available on the Top10VPN website.