Disadvantages of a VPN

A VPN might seem like the perfect solution to many online privacy problems. After all, a VPN hides your IP-address, encrypts your data, and unblocks IP-address protected content. In short, it provides you with safety, anonymity, and freedom.

However, everything has its disadvantages. Below you can read what disadvantages a VPN might have as well as the stark difference between free and paid VPNs.

Some common disadvantages of VPN services

A VPN connection might affect your internet usage in several ways. Some of the most common ones are:

  • A slower internet connection
  • Specific blockades of VPN services (for example by Netflix)
  • Illegal use of VPNs themselves
  • Not knowing how strong the encryption provided by your VPN is
  • The logging and potential reselling of your internet habits to third parties
  • Connection breaks
  • An unwarranted sense of online impunity
  • Free VPNs: sometimes worse than none at all

Below you can find each of these examples explained in more detail. We explain why you might experience a decrease in speed and how a VPN can cause you to get blocked. Moreover, you can read about the legality of a VPN in different countries. We’ll also try to help you with any difficulties you might encounter when assessing the safety of a VPN and to what extent you are truly anonymous. With most of these problems, we can help you find a suitable provider that won’t cause you too much trouble. However, some might have a greater effect on your experiences with VPNs. Inform yourself before buying a VPN, so you won’t be disappointed. If you’re simply looking for a very high-quality VPN and want to avoid many of the potential disadvantages, it’s worth investing in a VPN service like ExpressVPN. It costs several euros per month, but you get a great service in return.

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You might experience specific disadvantages depending on the VPN provider you choose. To make sure you won’t encounter any nasty surprises, read our review of the VPN you’re planning to buy.

A VPN may decrease your speed

Because the connection to the internet with a VPN is rerouted and encrypted through the VPN server, your internet connection might be slowed down slightly. This is why it is important to check the speed of a VPN when you are trying it out. You can find a large section on speed in all our reviews. Most premium VPN services such as NordVPN and ExpressVPN won’t slow down your internet too much, but the speed rarely stays the same.

Most internet users won’t notice the difference. People that do things online that need a speedy connection can have some problems with the wrong VPN. For instance, gamers that want to play online multi-player games should look into the best VPNs for gaming, to be sure they won’t experience any lag.

You can risk being blocked by certain services

Netflix logo

Some services discourage the use of a VPN. This usually means there is something that you aren’t supposed to have access to, but you do with a VPN. For instance, some governments block certain content for their citizens because they think it’s unfit or it threatens their values. Or sometimes certain content providers lock out users from out countries because they simply have not paid part of the license-fee, 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 aren’t very popular with these governments. This can even result in a general ban of all VPNs.

VPNs are also blocked by streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Because these companies have contracts with movie distributors that only allows them to show content in specific countries, they have started going after VPNs. With a VPN, people access the content of another country on these streaming services. Since Netflix might not have the rights to show that content in your country, they are fighting the use of a VPN. They do so by blocking IP addresses that access their service with large amounts of people at the same time. For instance, 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. Luckily, there are some VPN providers that make sure there is always a server you can use to watch Netflix. If you want a premium VPN that allows you to use Netflix, take a look at ExpressVPN.

Even though it might be considered suspicious, the use of a VPN is legal in most countries. In fact, most big companies and corporations use a VPN as part of their security. There are some exceptions though. Some countries want to have complete control over the things their citizens get to 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. The use of a VPN isn’t necessarily illegal there, but they want to keep control over it. Some quality VPN providers such as NordVPN though, have developed special “obfuscated servers” which should be possible to use in countries like China even if it is not allowed by the government. In other countries like North Korea, the use of a VPN is completely banned, meaning 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 bans the use of VPNs.

It is difficult for consumers to check the quality of encryption

It can be difficult to find out if VPN providers really do what they promise. You often only find out that they don’t when it goes wrong. The average PC user is not knowledgeable on cryptography. Is the service being provided really all that secure? For this reason, reviews are quite important in this branch. Before you commit to a subscription with a VPN provider it is smart to read some (user-)reviews.

In our reviews, you can find out what logs a provider says they keep and read more about the overall quality and safety of the VPN. This includes a brief explanation of what protocols and types of encryption are employed by the VPN provider. You can find reviews of all the big VPN providers on our website. You might also want to take a look at our top recommendations.

The logging and potential resale of your internet habits to third parties

The idea of getting a subscription from a VPN provider is that you route your internet traffic through their servers. They encrypt your data and let you make use of one of their many servers to also hide your IP address. This means that you need to have confidence in your VPN that they won’t abuse the data that travels through their servers. You have essentially bought safety and anonymity. Many VPN providers keep their end of the bargain and completely ignore your personal data. They do not log what you do nor store your data.

However, some VPN providers do log your data. Many free VPNs do this (more on this later) and some providers make it clear in their license agreement that they might do this. This, of course, defeats the entire purpose of getting a VPN service at all. But these are not the worst offenders. The really troubling cases are paid VPN providers who claim they do not log but have been found later to do so. For example, one VPN provider (HideMyAss) was asked by the FBI to provide information on one of their customers due to suspicion of illegal activities on the dark web. Although the company initially refused, they ended up handing over very specific logs about the user, including login times, downloads, bandwidth usage, etc.

This cautionary tale once again reminds us that we should look at multiple sources and reviews before signing a subscription with a VPN provider.

Connection breaks

Many VPN providers include a kill-switch in their software. This is a very useful feature. When the connection to your VPN server would get disconnected, you are suddenly left without any protection and your online behavior is linked to your actual IP address. In order to prevent this, the kill-switch immediately breaks your entire connection to the internet and only gets restored once your connection to the VPN is reestablished.

The downside of this is that, well, you’re no longer connected to the internet. Quality VPN providers very rarely encounter this issue, though.

An unwarranted sense of online impunity

There are some people who believe that their VPN connection makes them completely anonymous and unaffected by malware. This leads to the false belief they are untouchable on the internet. This is obviously not the case.

Even with a strongly encrypted and stable VPN-connection, you can still:

  • Get followed across the web by advertisers, trackers, hackers, intelligence agencies etc.
  • Get targeted and fall prey to phishing attacks
  • Get infected with some type of malware
  • Get locked out of certain networks, databases, deeb web pages etc.

VPNs make sure your data is encrypted, your IP address is hidden and that you can gain access to content that was previously unavailable for foreigners. But if a hacker or an intelligence agency wants to track you down, there are other ways of identifying you besides your IP address. Your IP address is only the first clue they might look for. As such, a VPN connection is anything but a license to participate on derogatory, illegal or reckless behavior on the internet. Always use your common sense and be careful.

Free VPNs: sometimes worse than none at all

Disadvantage free VPNSome people choose to try out a free VPN service. There is nothing wrong with this at all. Unfortunately, though, 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 prime example is Hola VPN, a VPN service you should steer clear from. These kinds of VPNs are not in the business of selling a VPN service but selling your personal data to third parties. When you use a VPN service you route your traffic through their servers. You pay them a subscription fee, they encrypt your data and they promise not to log or store all your data. However, many free VPN services earn their money by selling your data to, for example, advertisers. In this case, you are better off not having any VPN service at all and instead installing an Adblocker or some other security features.

Many free VPN providers also have data limits, speed limits, advertisements, and download restrictions. It is simply not an enjoyable experience to use because of these limitations. Moreover, many free VPN apps are not safe, containing spyware or malware in the download. Please be careful before trying out some free VPN services. If you do wish to try one or two, please check our top free VPN providers article. One free VPN that has our stamp of approval is ProtonVPN.

Final Thoughts

The main disadvantages of a VPN are annoying but do not necessarily affect most users. Most of the problems are encountered in free or cheaper VPN services. For example, in some cases, it is even possible that your internet connection gets even faster after connecting to a VPN provider. This can happen when your ISP throttles your connection. A VPN service then encrypts your data, making it far less likely that your ISP will attempt to throttle you. In this scenario, your connection is both safer and faster.

Also blockades specifically designed for VPN services are not always a problem. Netflix cannot and does not block all VPN servers. Many VPN providers have fast and easy access to Netflix across the globe.

There are also VPNs that do not have a kill switch. This way your internet connection is not suddenly shut down, although this does make you less safe.

Finally, there are definitely some disadvantages possible when you use a VPN service. However, many of these are very limited when using a quality provider. The best thing you can do is carefully consider which VPN provider is the best for you.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. Since 2019 she is VPNoverview.com's cybersecurity news coordinator.
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  1. I recently installed ExpressVPN and Bitdefender for antivirus protection. Bitdefender comes with its own VPN but I did not want to enable it. After installing on iOS device I could not enable security and continue to use my ExpressVPN. It disables ExpressVPN and prompts you to use Bitdefender VPN. Is there a good option for antivirus software that works well with existing VPN across PC, Mac, iOS, and Android?

    • We’ve been using Bitdefender together with ExpressVPN without problems, maybe it has something to do with the settings on your iOS device? Perhaps it’s trying to default to the Bitdefender VPN for some reason. Maybe one of our readers has the answer, or you could ask ExpressVPN’s support.

  2. Hello, I am looking at subscribing for a VPN simply for streaming occasionally foreign TV from the Uk and from France to UK TV say. So small user. Are you able to give me any advice please?

    Many thanks, Mrs BP

    • In this case it’s probably best to go for a cheaper VPN (seeing as you’re not going to be a heavy user) that’s also good at unblocking and streaming. We could recommend either CyberGhost or Surfshark in this case.

  3. Hello, I noticed that you rated VPN-only providers. What about bundled providers where VPN is one of the services? In my case, specifically Bitdefender.

    • We haven’t tested most of these bundled providers because, usually, they offer way less in terms of options and servers than VPN-only providers. On top of that, the focus of these companies (such as Bitdefender), is different from VPNs that provide privacy and unblocking. Usually, this means that they are situated in countries that are not necessarily privacy-focussed, which also poses a problem in terms of keeping logs. Their business is not privacy-related, so the services they provide that focus on privacy are not as good as the services VPN-providers provide that focus solely on privacy.

  4. While VPNs can provide some level of privacy, if you go to a bad website, doesn’t a VPN still provide a connection back to your computer for a bad actor to potentially try to do something harmful? Can/does a VPN prevent man in the middle attacks – or any other type of attack for that matter, or is a user still susceptible to everything they’d normally be exposed to with a regular browser page load?

    • A VPN helps against MiTM attacks to some extent because it encrypts and anonymizes the data between your device and the VPN-server. This ensures protection against attacks aimed at specific users or attacks performed by ISPs or network admins. This means that only general MiTM attacks to visitors of a specific website could work.

  5. Slow internet connection while using VPN is one of the drawback which I have experienced myself. I think it’s maybe due to using a free VPN. Correct me if I am wrong.

    • That could definitely be the case. Since a VPN redirects your internet traffic via an exteral server, using a VPN could slow down your connection. However, there are many good premium VPNs out there that offer stable and fast connections, anyway. Most free VPNs aren’t capable of offering such services. Moreover, many free VPN services enforce speed limits or have servers that become too crowded at times, so using a free VPN could definitely slow down your internet connection significantly.

  6. I installed VPN offered by my antivirus security system a few months ago. However I noticed I could not send any emails while VPN was switched on. I could receive emails, but just not send them. The moment I turned off VPN I could send emails again. This was so bothersome that I cancelled my VPN for a refund. Could you comment please.

    • Hi George,
      In some cases, emailing indeed gets more difficult when you use a VPN. Certain email providers, such as Gmail, treat shared IP addresses from VPN servers differently from a ‘normal’ IP address. Usually, this means your emails will take longer to arrive or end up in a spam folder. It seems that your email provider is blocking your emails entirely. One way to solve this, is to get a dedicated IP address. You can read more about dedicated IP addresses in this article. A VPN provider that offers these addresses and has lots of extra features that might help you out in the future, is NordVPN. If you’re considering getting a different VPN, you might want to check them out!

  7. Hello.

    Thank you for your post. In case my internet connection gets even faster after connecting to a VPN provider, will my MB or GB finish faster?

    If for example i have 5 GB to use as wifi and, with normal usage, it takes me 1 week to use all, will it now finish faster in this case ?

    Thank you

    • Good question! The only thing a VPN will do if it increases your internet speed, is make the websites you visit load faster. This means you will only go through your MBs or GBs faster if you actually visit more websites, use apps for a longer time, and so on. If you do the exact same things online with a VPN as you’d do without, you’ll have used exactly as much data. The only change is that your loading times will be less.

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