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.
- Very easy to use VPN
- Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading, and streaming (i.e. Netflix)
- 3000+ servers in 94 countries
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
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.
A VPN isn’t legal in all countries
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.
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
Some 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.
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.