Betternet VPN is an app for your Windows computer, Chrome and Firefox browsers, and iOS and Android devices.
It’s one of the few free* VPN services available, with some optional premium services if you choose to pay.
Betternet VPN is one of the newest VPN providers to pop up, so there’s little information about it on the web. Still, those searching for the cheapest way to remain anonymous when browsing the Internet are flocking to the Betternet service, with somewhere between 10 to 50 million downloads on Google Play alone.
After years of foolishly running my online business via public WiFi, I decided to start using a VPN to secure my communications (and access a bit of out of market sporting events while traveling).
This Betternet VPN review is my notes from trying them out for my own purposes as a security-aware, traveling, US-based businessperson who needs good usability and good pricing.*
*There is lot of misinformation around VPNs. Here’s a good explainer considering the pros & cons of VPNs …
The short version is that Betternet is not worth even free – it’s a classic case of “you get what you pay for”.
Here’s my Betternet VPN review – structured with pros & cons based on my experience as a customer.
Betternet Pros / Advantages
Possibly the best / only thing Betternet VPN has going for it is it’s free to use…as a Chrome extension. It’s supposed to be free on Andriod / iOS but I couldn’t figure out how to not signup for a 7-day trial leading to an $11.99/mo charge.
Either way – free is the point that brings in most of its fan base. Rightfully so, people want a free VPN over one that requires a monthly or annual subscription!
There aren’t many free VPN services available, so it’s good to see one offering some decent features that other free services typically don’t provide, like P2P connections. Betternet VPN does have some good things going for it that can be helpful to those looking for the cheapest service, basic features, and maximum connectivity.
Betternet VPN is free, so you can’t get much more simple than that for pricing. If you need a VPN service for a quick business trip to protect your information in a new location, then it might be worth it to use this free service without needing to pay for a monthly subscription for a few days.
Betternet claims to make most of its money through sponsored videos and advertisements that you’ll see within its apps. You may see app recommendations, for example, which Betternet receives a commission when you install them. The company claims that Betternet will always be free for its users.
It seems to be truly free on desktop Chrome / Mozilla browsers and Windows PCs. It did not secure all my Internet access – only my browser traffic. The free extension is less a free VPN as a free browser proxy/tunnel.
However – when I signed up for the Android app, I was nearly forced to sign up for a free 7-day trial for a premium account (there is a small X at the top FYI).
The premium service will give you the option of server selection, extra IP choices, better connection speeds and stability, and 24/7 customer support. The premium subscription is $11.99 monthly – a very pricey service compared even to premium VPNs like ExpressVPN.
Five Simultaneous Connections
The best VPN services let you connect more than one of your devices to your VPN at a time. If you’re traveling, for example, you can keep your laptop, tablet, and mobile phone all connected simultaneously to your VPN. This is much more convenient than disconnecting a device to connect another one through your VPN.
Betternet VPN allows up to five simultaneous connections, so you can do work on your laptop while listening to music on your phone or watching a movie streaming on your tablet. Some VPN providers that require a paid subscription don’t offer this many connections.
It is possible to work your router to bypass limits on simultaneous connections by VPN providers, but this doesn’t work if you don’t have access to the router that’s currently providing your Wi-Fi connection, like at a hotel. For frequent traveling, it’s better to find a VPN provider that doesn’t limit connections to only one or two devices.
If you need to allow others to connect to your connection while remaining protected by a VPN, Betternet is one of the only free VPN services to allow it. In fact, some paid VPN services completely block P2P connections so that they don’t have to deal with possible court orders regarding copyright infringement from torrent downloads and uploads commonly used with P2P.
It’s important to note, though, that Betternet clearly states that it will comply with any DMCA notifications it may receive regarding your P2P use. However, Betternet’s policy also says that it won’t compromise your identity with its information, and will instead only provide the information it has available without jeopardizing your privacy.
There’s a lot to unbox here. First, there’s the issue that they are located in Canada, which has efficient legal and direct legal jurisdiction. Second, as I’ll note in the cons section is not super-secure. They leak all sorts of information if you are not careful. Third, whether you are infringing on copyright or not, you do have to understand your access providers’ position, incentives, and values.
Betternet has no clear about page, values position, privacy organizations they support, product documentation, logging or monitoring documentation or really anything to indicate they are a profitable company with proper insurance and legal team. So – P2P connections are allowed, but whether it’s risky to use those connections via Betternet, I’m not as sure.
No Registration Necessary
The last thing you want to do when you use a VPN service is plug in your identifying information to register for an account. This defeats the purpose of true anonymity. But, some free VPN services make you do this before you can access their apps.
Betternet doesn’t require any information from you to download and use its app on your PC, mobile device, or browser (unless you want to use the premium service across devices). If you are using the free browser extension, you won’t have any identifying email information with them.
Betternet Cons / Disadvantages
For the few things that Betternet VPN does well, it’s unfortunately heavily negated with an incredible number of flaws. For a free VPN service, it does its job. But when examined as a VPN service in general, Betternet VPN just doesn’t do well at all and can be dangerous to your devices.
The last thing you want to worry about when you want to stay protected is putting your data and identity at risk from the software that should be protecting you. Plus, with little customer support in place to contact when there’s an issue, Betternet VPN falls behind as a service you can trust with your most important Internet activities.
Access Blocked Websites and Streaming Channels
It can be irritating not to have access to websites and streaming channels in other locations because of the location of your IP address. Unfortunately, this is an issue that arises with many VPN providers, since you may be using a server in a different country that doesn’t have access to the content you want to view.
Netflix, for example, blocks content to users in countries where it’s banned. If it were to block a movie from users in China and you logged into your VPN through a China server, you wouldn’t have access to that movie, either. The same can happen with websites that block IPs from certain locations to prevent spam or malicious attacks.
One of the main focuses of Betternet is its ability to let you access geo-restricted content . The problem is that I could not really get it to work – and, the lack of country server selection seriously hampers many geo-restricted offerings anyway.
Now – any VPN is going to have trouble playing cat and mouse with Netflix – but many premium VPNs do it quite well.
But for other geo-restricted (or geo-influenced) content – you simply need your VPN to work. I could not get any BBC content on my supposed “UK” connection with Betternet. I could not even load a localized Google.co.uk for my international research – much less for countries with no Betternet servers.
Overall, one of Betternet’s main pitches is a near total bust.
Lack of Strong Security
If you are not using a VPN for better access, then you are likely looking to secure your connection from prying eyes on public WiFi – or even your ISP. That’s another focus of Betternet’s.
Caveat – Note that no VPN is 100% secure. Your traffic is still routing through a company. Any company can go out of business or go rogue. If you are trying to avoid your American ISP – then you are simply replacing distrust of Comcast/Charter with the trust of your VPN. If you are a political activist where trust is a life or death situation, you need to be using something like Tor. That is something you do via aligning company incentives (ie, paying for companies who maintain security) & being proactive.
Betternet seems to do ok with their premium service on Android and for any requests through an enabled browser but they also create a false sense of security. Since the VPN is only enabled on your browser – any Internet activity not routed through your browser is not hidden or encrypted.
And the issue here is that even if you are only using your browser, you have other services running in the background providing all sorts of public metadata – so even if you think your connection is private…it’s really not.
Known to Inject Malware on Devices
Perhaps most concerning about Betternet VPN is its possible security breach to your device. Free VPN services have come under fire recently for making PCs and mobile devices vulnerable to malware and viruses.
A recent study found that 38% of VPN apps contained some type of malware or virus and 80% could access your texts or other information. Betternet is one that’s been noted as threatening to your devices, with an Antivirus Rank (AV Rank) of 13. The lower the rank, the better, and Betternet has one of the highest.
I did not see any malware installed when I installed it.
However – any VPN that relies on app installs and/or ad scripts for revenue can install malware either on purpose or accidentally. This is literally a situation where you get what you pay for. And if you are not a paying customer, then you are the company’s product being sold to their real customers (ie, advertisers). Buyer beware.
Limited Customer Support
It’s unsettling when a company website doesn’t provide much information about the company, especially when you have to dig to find contact information. Can you trust a company that isn’t transparent about itself or how to get a hold of them if there’s an issue?
If you want to pay for premium services, you can gain 24/7 access to customer support, but this is something that should be available for free. Free members can access the help guides – which aren’t very thorough if they are accessible – or they can submit a ticket.
Unfortunately, there’s no e-mail address, live chat, or even a phone number listed to contact. When you need to access the Internet, you don’t need extra hassle. If you’re having trouble with Betternet, you may not get your issue resolved quickly.
Limited Server Selection
Betternet VPN service provides a limited number of servers in eight countries. That’s already not much to choose from, but the free service limits you further. Not only are you locked out from accessing some of the servers unless you’re a premium member, but you also can’t choose from the available servers.
Betternet chooses the most “efficient” server for you. Its help section does say that a new version is in the works that will let you choose your own server, but currently, this is a major inconvenience for you if you want even the slightest control over where your IP address comes from.
Additionally, if you are using a VPN while traveling anywhere except USA or UK then you are unlikely to have an in-country or in-region server.
Stores Connection Logs
Betternet doesn’t have logs of any identifying information, such as your name or e-mail address because it simply doesn’t have that information. However, it makes no promises that your connections aren’t logged. As mentioned previously, Betternet states that it can, and will, go back through connection data if needed to comply with legal requests.
Speed & Performance
Since a VPN is basically a middleman for your Internet connection, there will be some loss of speed inherent with any VPN use. That said, a good VPN will do all sorts of things to minimize latency (the travel time between your computer & their server) along with bandwidth (how many requests can be handled by the server).
Betternet falls short on both. They had some ok results.
But the tests also varied wildly to where I could not tell what was a truly “good” test.
Overall, Betternet seemed to have mediocre latency & bandwidth capabilities. But in general, speeds were simply unreliable.
Betternet VPN is free, unblocks blocked content (in theory), and allows P2P connections. But, that’s mostly where the benefits end with this VPN service. As for protecting your device’s data and your personal information, Betternet falls short in a big way.
Betternet VPN simply won’t protect you in the most important ways you’d expect from a VPN provider. Betternet keeps logs that could expose your activity and makes your information vulnerable to third parties through advertising. More concerning is the fact that this VPN provider may compromise your security by adding viruses or malware to your computer, rather than protect you and your information against attacks.
If you were to encounter a problem with Betternet VPN, good luck trying to get a hold of customer support since the company doesn’t provide any contact information. The service is sketchy at best, and its free account shouldn’t be enough to mask the potential dangers to your anonymity and security.
If you want to try Betternet yourself, it’s free – and you can do so here.