As much as we all like freebies, some of us might often question ‘why’ they’re free or ‘how’ they’re free. It’s a reasonable question considering everybody needs to get paid to pay the bills. Free VPN service providers are no different. So, how exactly do free VPN services make money?
When it comes to marketing, the word “free” is very powerful. According to psychologists, our brains are naturally designed to want to receive or be given something of value for doing hardly anything or nothing at all in return. But companies must make money somehow to keep going right? Keep reading below to find out exactly how VPN services use the word ‘free’ to make money.
1. Free VPN Service Providers May Sell Your Data
Sometimes the word free is a little white lie and there’s a catch. In the case of free VPN services, the catch is often found in the providers selling your data.
Here is the information they might sell to third parties to make some money:
- Your bandwidth
- Your online traffic destinations
- Any information about other platforms you’ve signed up with
- Sites you’ve created an account for
- Your email address and some other personal information
Why do they do this? To make money of course!
By selling your user data and information to third parties for advertisement and marketing purposes, the ‘free’ VPN service provider makes some money off you without you even realizing it.
2. From their Paid Subscription Service
Most free VPN services also provide a paid subscription service and either offer their free service as a trial or with some limitations.
This is great marketing because they give you a taste of what you can access and achieve through their services but don’t give you quite enough to get everything you might want or need.
Some free VPN services put up blocks and geo-restrictions of their own so that you can’t access too much for free. They also include more ads from third-party sources and don’t put as much time and effort into their internet speeds as they do with their paid VPN services.
Hence, you’ll probably end up paying for their paid subscription service for improved internet speeds, privacy, fewer ads, and access to a much broader range of internet sites with fewer or no geo-restrictions.
You might even call this a form of manipulation…
3. By Implementing Numerous and Targeted Ads
Third parties pay VPN providers to apply their ads to their servers to try and entice users to buy their services.
The VPN service provider gets paid some money for implementing the ads and the third parties get paid by offering you something you can’t refuse.
This also goes back to the VPN provider selling your data to third parties so that they know exactly which ads to target you with based on your internet searches and created accounts.
Some servers even just allow third parties access to your data so they can target ads specifically designed for you.
Too many ads make a truly frustrating experience while browsing the interweb and can be enough to make anyone feel forced to purchase a paid VPN subscription for fewer ads.
Otherwise, it can work in the favor of the third-party providers and make you spend more money than intended on the services they are offering based on your internet searches.
Popup ads are the worst, right?
4. Allowing Cookies to Track Your Online Traffic
Get a VPN they said, it’ll keep your online traffic private they said…
What ‘they’ meant was to sign up for a VPN service that doesn’t make money from you by letting other providers track your traffic through cookies.
Who doesn’t love cookies? I wish we were talking about the cookies you’d find in a cookie jar on the top shelf, where the kids can’t reach them until they’re old enough to realize how fun and dangerous climbing the kitchen cabinets are…
No, these cookies are designed to keep and store small pieces of your online data. Just enough to keep track of your online movements and browser activities so they can either recognize you when you return to a website or so they can ‘customize’ your experience based on personal preferences.
The issue with this is that you signed up for a service that is supposed to block your server information and the IP address from being recognized and to be masked, keeping you anonymous.
You may have thought that’s what you were signing up for but if you didn’t read the fine print, you’ve probably allowed the VPN server to let cookies access your server information.
5. By Setting Limits and Geo-Restricted Blocks
Another great marketing tool used by ‘free’ VPN service providers is purposely limiting your access to some geo-restricted blocks and firewalls where their paid subscription service would allow access.
This is to entice you into paying for their paid subscription service.
VPNs advertise themselves as privacy protectors and a legal way to gain access to content that isn’t usually accessible to your server location. ‘Geo-restrictions’ are what they call it.
People in careers like journalism and politics, and people connecting to the internet from public servers are attracted to what a VPN can do for their privacy and their access to information on a much broader scale while remaining anonymous.
VPN services can track your desirable activity and purposely put-up blocks and firewalls that even with their free VPN you cannot access. Again, this could be classed as services manipulation as their goal here is to attract you to their paid services where the blocks will no longer exist.
Free VPN services can also drastically slow down your internet traffic, again this is a purposeful tactic used for non-paying customers.
6. By Making Your Server an Exit Node or a Gateway
Although VPNs can be free and they advertise complete privacy of your personal information and online traffic browsing, the VPN service can still track your activity to make sure you’re not delving into any illegal activity.
Something else your service provider might do is make your server the gateway for exit nodes.
As a free subscriber, you could potentially be allowing your server to be used as an ‘exit node’ for illegal activity.
Free VPN providers could essentially be selling access to your server and network for online traffic to go through your server and exit through your server where all sorts of traffic can be traced, including illegal activities. Although you’re not doing anything illegal, when the activity exits through your server it certainly looks as if you’re the one doing the illegal activity.
Usually, exit nodes are automatically selected at random, but when you’re getting a service for free and the provider needs to make money somehow, there’s no telling just how ‘randomized’ the automatic exit node selection is.
Unfortunately, not everybody is willing to give away freebies from the kindness of their generous hearts. While free VPN services sound great on paper, there are usually hidden costs and agendas happening in the background where the service provider can make some money from your ‘free’ subscription.
VPN providers need to rent and pay for the servers they use, so it only makes sense that they have some money coming in from somewhere. Especially if they don’t also offer a paid VPN subscription.
We recommend always reading the fine print of your VPN contract, and only signing up with VPN providers that offer both a free and a paid service to protect your online traffic.