Betternet Review – A Free VPN Service, but Is it Worth the Risk?

In this Betternet review, we take an in-depth look at both the free and premium version of this VPN service. We show you how it performs, and the risks involved with using it.

The most common reasons to use a VPN are to protect and secure your personal data, in addition to hiding your browsing activity on the internet. Using a VPN helps to eliminate spam, hackers, and advertisers from watching your virtual activity and turning you into a target based on your browsing.

Betternet VPN Review
Betternet VPN Review

Enter Betternet VPN

In business since 2015, the biggest calling card for Betternet is the price. It’s free! Well, there’s a free version. There’s also a premium version with additional features that you can pay for. We’ll cover that as well.

The free option may also explain why Betternet is so popular with millions of downloads per day, according to Google Play statistics. At last count, there were over 38 million Betternet downloads to date.

When comparing Betternet to the other no-cost option VPN services, this one offers some advantages over the competition. For example, features like Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file sharing, solid connectivity, and basic protection are covered. After reading this Betternet VPN review, judge for yourself whether this provider will address all your needs.

Betternet VPN Pros and Cons

ProsCons
  • 100% free service
  • 7-day free trial before a premium service option begins
  • Compatible for use with Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Chrome extension
  • User-friendly
  • P2P connections
  • Up to 5 simultaneous connections (premium service only)
  • Anonymous download, no personal information required (free service only)
  • 256-bit AES OpenVPN encryption (see Privacy section) *
  • Browser surfing is protected; other internet activity may not be
  • Unclear policies and security information
  • Allows third-party access for advertising purposes
  • Lack of servers; app chooses a server for you (free version)
  • Cannot access restricted content for streaming
  • Cannot stream Netflix
  • Does not provide strong security
  • Potential to allow malware on your devices
  • Minimal customer support (free version)
  • Potential to capture and store logging data
  • Slow server connections and unimpressive bandwidth
  • Frequently dropped connections
  • No Kill-Switch
  • No router support
  • Not compatible with gaming consoles or Smart TVs

Ease of Use

Betternet is easy to download and install because it’s set up in an app format. However, when downloading on an Android or iOS device, it’s challenging to figure out how to skip the 7-day trial, which eventually turns into a recurring monthly subscription, and get straight to the free download.

Ease of Use - Source: ShutterStock.com
Ease of Use – Source: ShutterStock.com

It basically downloads as more of a Google Chrome extension, so it is pretty fast and easy to get up and running with a click of a few buttons.

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Reliability

Due to the limited number of servers, longer connectivity issues and bandwidth limitations, Betternet isn’t the most reliable VPN on the market.

Reliability - Source: ShutterStock.com
Reliability – Source: ShutterStock.com

Between slow connection and download times and inconsistent streaming, reliability isn’t Betternet’s strong suit.

Software/Apps

A free app offered by AnchorFree, it is compatible with Windows, Mac OS, Android and iOS devices, in addition to the Chrome extension.

anchorfree.com Homepage
anchorfree.com Homepage

Betternet is very popular on Google Play and a favorite Android download.

Privacy

There are serious concerns about the level of privacy offered with Betternet. It should be noted that with the free app version, Betternet allows third-party access. What this means is that once you download the app, you are subjected to advertisements. Betternet can offer its VPN service for free because its makes money through third-party, affiliate advertising.

Privacy
Privacy

Should you click on a video or sign up with one of its advertisers, Betternet receives a commission. While Betternet states that it engages in third-party advertising to cover operating costs, there’s no question that exposure to adverts and clicking through on any links puts your privacy at risk.

The website does not have a company information page, which generally tells you a lot about the core values and mission statement of the business. It comes across as obscure which makes you wonder how secure you really are as you engage in peer-to-peer communication or exchanges.

One step you could take to increase your privacy while browsing would be to combine Betternet with the Tor browser.

Note: We wrote an in-depth guide for how to use a VPN with Tor if you decide to use it with Betternet.

Logging

Although Betternet, a Canadian-based company, claims not to store logging information, it must legally comply with government requests for information when requested to do so. According to Betternet’s Privacy Policy, “Betternet does not collect, log, store, share any data log of users.”

Logging
Logging

Betternet’s Privacy Policy also indicates that in the event of a DMCA takedown notice, it cannot release your IP address. It’s a smart way for Betternet to do what it can to comply with the requirements of the DMCA notice without releasing your data.

Since Betternet comes right out and says that it does not possess the information, even under legal action it’s impossible to turn over data you don’t have.

Please note, it’s very important to read through Betternet’s Privacy Policy, Terms of Service and other small print before you start using the service.

Security

Betternet is actually more like a proxy or tunnel versus a full-blown VPN. While your browsing activity is hidden and protected, your other internet searches, views, and overall activity are not completely secure. This is especially true when downloading Betternet extensions to a mobile device.

The Chrome extension, for example, has been hacked and mobile devices were infected with malware. This may be due to the lack of encryption with mobile downloads. In any event, it appears that Betternet’s mobile apps and extensions are riskier than downloading to Windows.

Security
Security

Something to watch out for while using a VPN is if your ISP’s IP address is visible or not. If it is, that means you are not protected or secure. When testing Betternet on your device for potential leaks, pay close attention to the messages that come up on your screen. Another way to research the potential of VPNs infecting your devices with viruses or malware is to check their Antivirus Rankings.

The lower the score, the lower the risks. With an AV Ranking of 13, Betternet is on the high end of the scale, which means the potential is greater for malware or viruses showing up on your devices.

Source: https://research.csiro.au/ng/wp-content/uploads/sites/106/2016/08/paper-1.pdf
Source: https://research.csiro.au/ng/wp-content/uploads/sites/106/2016/08/paper-1.pdf

Betternet boasts about offering protection both by high-level industry standard 256-bit AES encryption over OpenVPN protocol and 128-bit encryption over IPSec. What Betternet doesn’t say is when they are used. Betternet’s Privacy Policy doesn’t even mention using 256-bit encryption anywhere in the document, which also raises a red flag.

Government Surveillance

Should you be wary of government surveillance, Betternet is a Canadian-based company. The Canadian government, or any country under their jurisdiction, is an active member of the Five Eyes movement.

Government Surveillance - Source: ShutterStock.com
Government Surveillance – Source: ShutterStock.com

Five Eyes countries work together to gather data and intelligence. If this is an issue for you, you may want to eliminate this Canadian-based contender.

Third-Party Advertising

The fact that you are exposed to third-party advertising information creates another big question about Betternet security. According to its Privacy Policy, there is a section in which Betternet outlines the potential of third-party access to cookies and additional data in order to customize advertisements to your specific interests.

It’s interesting to note that in most cases, if a company offers a free product or service, you know that the goal is to lure potential customers in with a free offer, thereby getting a paid product option in front of them. While Betternet uses this business model to promote its paid service, you have to wonder why it also allows adverts on the free version as an additional revenue source.

Third-Party Advertising
Third-Party Advertising

Anytime you are exposed to third-party advertising and you click on these ads or videos, you as the user suddenly become the product. Your information becomes very valuable and suddenly, the ads become more customized and geared towards your interests. That is a huge red flag regarding security in addition to the distraction of advertising in the first place.

Leaks

Betternet does not offer a Kill-Switch or provide any sort of leak protection in the event of a dropped connection. The dropped connection exposes your IP address which is exactly what you don’t want a VPN to do.

Leaks
Leaks

There have also been confirmed IP and DNS leaks while using Betternet. If you choose to uninstall Betternet from your system, check for any leftover, residual files remaining on your device, particularly on a Windows platform.

Performance/Speed

Betternet’s free service doesn’t provide fast latency (time to connect you to a server) or a broad bandwidth (how much traffic the server can handle).

Performance/Speed
Performance/Speed

While Betternet gives an OK performance, both the latency and broadband size automatically result in slower connection speeds and less stable performance.

Server Locations

Not only does Betternet have an extremely limited number of servers, but you also can’t even select a server with the free version. The software chooses the most efficient server nearest your location and that is what you use. It has servers available in ten different countries, however, if traveling to a country other than the UK or the US, you may not even be able to access a server.

Server Locations
Server Locations

The premium version, released in 2017, gives you more server options and you can manually choose the one you prefer to use. Servers are located in 10 different countries. From the U.S. server, you can choose from seven different city server locations It should be noted that while you can confirm Betternet’s server locations, it’s much more difficult to confirm a specific number of servers.

As you search for answers, you’ll find the number of servers can be as few as 50. The Betternet website is minimal at best and doesn’t provide you with a whole lot of information regarding specific information about its servers.

Torrenting

The risk you take while torrenting with any VPN is the potential for legal crackdowns requesting user information. Most VPN’s that allow torrenting do so with the understanding that they will comply with legal requests for information. Betternet is on-board with this policy.

Torrenting
Torrenting

Betternet’s privacy policy indicates that while it will do everything it can to comply with legal requests, it will not release customer identification information or IP addresses. Aside from all the legal issues surrounding torrenting activity, anyone who is seriously into torrenting will not like using Betternet due to the slow download speeds and dropped connections. Add to that the limited number of server selections and Betternet’s streaming limitations, this is not a good VPN for torrenting.

Streaming Capabilities

Betternet’s streaming capabilities fall short, mainly due to the lack of servers. One of the reasons for using a VPN is to be able to stream information from anywhere in the world, regardless of where your true IP address is located. If you are connected to one of Betternet’s servers in a country that doesn’t allow streaming or restricts access to websites, it can be beyond frustrating when you are blocked.

Streaming Capabilities - Source: ShutterStock.com
Streaming Capabilities – Source: ShutterStock.com

You may be blocked from websites simply because of the location of your IP address, which shouldn’t be an issue while using a VPN. The Betternet VPN even has challenges when connecting you to a server and streaming information from the same country.

Betternet cannot be used in China. Because all Betternet IPs and servers are blocked, and you will not be able to use it as a VPN for Netflix.

Pricing

While the Betternet’s free VPN service is 100% free, it also offers a premium service. The premium service kicks in after the expiration of the 7-day free trial. The premium version offers additional perks such as more server selection, more IP options, better and faster connections, and better 24/7 support.

Pricing for Betternet premium packages:

  • $11.99/month Six months = $23.99 (or $3.99/month)
  • Twelve months = $35.99 (or $2.99/month)

Note that when you sign up for the premium service, you are required to supply your credit card information. You don’t set up an actual account with Betternet, just provide your payment information. Since you don’t have an account, you don’t have the option to track payments, download invoices or manage subscriptions.

Pricing
Pricing

If you opt to cancel, Betternet’s refund policy states that it “reserve the right to deny your refund for any reason, or for no reason at all,” so buyer beware. The company may opt to prorate the refund amount or if it deems there has been a breach of the TOS policy, you may not get a refund at all.

Product Support

The free Betternet VPN service has little to offer for customer support. You have to use a “ticket” request system and you might be waiting a while for resolution or answers to any issues you are experiencing.

Once again, as you search Betternet’s website, you will have a hard time locating any type of contact information for customer support. As a free version user, your options are limited to accessing a troubleshooting guide or submitting a ticket requesting support.

Product Support
Product Support

Betternet’s paid VPN version offers 24/7 customer service support. Betternet’s 30-day refund policy sounds good at first. After reading the fine print, you’ll see that the refund policy is voided if bandwidth usage exceeds 50 MB for the month. If your refund request is denied due to using more than 50MB of bandwidth for the month, how does Betternet know how much bandwidth you’ve used without tracking your usage and/or connections trail? Something to think about for sure.

Summing it Up

As with any free VPN service, you simply cannot have high expectations. If you want an inexpensive, basic VPN service that offers the bonus of a P2P feature, Betternet will fit the bill.

However, if you want to unlock more features, benefits, better streaming capabilities and proven privacy/protection, Betternet VPN is probably not the one for you. Because Betternet is really more of a proxy than a VPN, the app doesn’t really give you the level of security, privacy and speed you expect and need from a VPN service.

The biggest issue with Betternet seems to be that no matter how far it runs, it can’t run away from the lack of trust due to security and privacy issues. As stated at the beginning of this review, a big reason to use a VPN is to provide privacy, protection, and security.

Summing it Up
Summing it Up

Sure, you want speed, reliability and other options or features, but it’s really that level of security that draws you into the VPN promises. The reported cases of malware, leaks and security/privacy when using Betternet software are beyond a red flag for anyone looking to use a VPN. Although a lot of “free” products and services are free because you must suffer through a constant stream of third-party ads and various other restrictions and limitations.

However, when your product is a VPN and your service is privacy and security, the credibility and trust factors of Betternet go down considerably.

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Staff Pick
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References

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