Betternet welcomes you with a smiling shield that makes it look inviting. But there’s a lot about this free VPN service that requires careful evaluation.
For example, the VPN appeared to be an independent Canadian company a few years back. But now Pango, a global privacy and security company, owns Betternet.
I discovered this while reviewing Betternet’s Terms of Service, which includes mentions of Pango GmbH and Pango Inc.
It’s also interesting that Betternet has received several updates since its arrival in 2015, including a paid premium plan in addition to the infamous free service.
Still, most people ask questions about the free version of Betternet. And that’s why I’m going to focus on that part of the service rather than discuss the capabilities of Betternet premium.
How’s Betternet Free?
The main appeal of Betternet is that it offers a free VPN service.
You can use its Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android apps, as well as the Chrome extension, without spending a dime.
The company doesn’t even ask you to register, so you don’t have to provide your name and email address.
But VPNs need to make money to stay afloat. Betternet relies on third-party videos and apps, served through their affiliate partner, to generate revenue.
So when you watch a video or install an app while using Betternet, the company gets a small payment.
Considering that over 38 million people around the world use Betternet’s service, it seems like a viable monetization strategy. No wonder the company is still alive and kicking. But, as you’ll discover shortly, there are many risks to using its free service.
Betternet VPN Overview
|Betternet VPN Facts and Features
|Keeps connection logs
|11 servers located in 10 countries
|256-bit AES Encryption, IPSec, OpenVPN
|500MB per day
Betternet VPN Pros and Cons
While using Betternet, I discovered the following things about the service.
- User-friendly interface
- No registration required
- Apps for various devices
- Doesn’t unblock Netflix
- Lacks important security features like a VPN kill switch
- Data capped at 500MB per day
- Unreliable for streaming and torrenting
- Previous malware issues
- DNS and WebRTC leaks
- No premium support in the free version
These are what I consider to be the most important findings on Betternet.
Now let’s begin with this Betternet review and take a closer look at the capabilities of this free VPN.
Betternet is owned by Pango Inc, a company based in California, USA. This jurisdiction is a member of the Five-Eyes alliance and does a great deal of collaboration with other members of the intelligence-sharing group.
That could be a cause of concern for people who’re wary about using VPN services based in the Five-Eyes countries. Fortunately, providers like NordVPN & ExpressVPN are located in a privacy-friendly jurisdiction and offer a secure alternative to Betternet.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Five-Eyes alliance, you can read more about it in our ultimate guide to online privacy.
Ease of Use
Betternet’s simple interface makes it easy to get around its app. It features a smiling shield inside a large grey circle, a connect button, and detail of your current server location. Those using Betternet Premium can select another location by clicking on their present server located at the bottom of the interface.
To connect to the default server, either click on the grey circle or the connect button inside the app. Betternet shows a cutesy “I’m doing my best to connect” message to inform you that it’s attempting to make a connection.
However, the app doesn’t have any real settings that you can modify to optimize the VPN to your liking. The virtual locations you see will only prompt you to sign up for Betternet premium, as none of them are available to free users.
That said, Betternet’s Settings do allow you to “Start on Launch”, which can come in handy in situations where you need to connect to an unsecured WiFi hotspot.
Betternet’s free service limits you to just one US-based server. This might not be apparent when you visit Betternet’s website where the company boasts of having servers in various countries. However, when you try to connect to a server in the UK, Hong Kong, or Australia, the VPN will ask you to get the premium service. Also, you can’t choose a specific US city or state unless you sign up for Betternet premium.
So Betternet’s free VPN is only good when you want to access US and UK content. For accessing sites and content from other countries, you’ll have to search for an alternative. We recommend TunnelBear because it has a free plan with servers in 20+ countries – the paid version unlocks even more servers.
Betternet Speed Test Results
I’ll be honest. Betternet’s marketing made me think that I’m in for a treat. I expected it to be faster than other free VPNs out there. But boy, I was wrong.
In the first speed test, the Betternet achieved download speeds of almost 17Mbps – just 3 Mbps short of my baseline internet speed. That’s excellent considering how far I’m located (I was testing from Pakistan) from Betternet’s US-based server.
But after a couple of tests on Ookla’s website, the speed dropped.
And it dropped so much that Betternet even struggled to cross 5 Mbps. That’s not impressive at all.
Here’s my baseline internet speed:
And here’s what I got after connecting to Betternet free:
Since the download speed is low, Betternet isn’t the best choice for gamers, torrenters, or streaming enthusiasts.
The outcome made me believe that the free VPN intentionally reduces free users’ speeds (in other words, it throttles your internet connection).
Another reason behind my thinking is the “Connect faster” button on the Betternet app, clicking which brings up premium subscription offers.
But hey, if we have to pay a premium price for faster speeds, why don’t we just use a premium VPN from the start? That’s certainly one for us to ponder.
Moving on, let’s see how Betternet fares in terms of privacy and security.
Privacy and Security
It took me a few hours to learn how Betternet manages the privacy and security of its users. Here’s what I found out about the service:
Is Betternet VPN Safe?
After a bit of research, I came to know that Betternet uses both 128-bit AES encryption (over IPSec) and 256-bit AES encryption (over OpenVPN). 256-bit AES is currently the most secure encryption out there.
Secondly, Betternet utilizes the Catapult Hydra protocol on each platform, which is known for its ability to improve the speed of VPN transport data. The company combines the Catapult Hydra protocol with perfect forward secrecy to ensure the data remains completely secure.
Beyond these two features, Betternet doesn’t offer much in terms of security. The VPN doesn’t have a kill switch, so your data won’t be safe in case of a sudden drop in the VPN connection. A VPN kill switch protects you in several ways.
If you want a VPN with an advanced kill switch, I recommend NordVPN due to its Network Lock feature.
I also came to know that researchers found malware and tracking libraries in one of Betternet’s apps. Below are the details.
Betternet’s Android App Found to Have Malware
An academic report on VPNs revealed that Betternet’s Android app tested positive for malware by thirteen antivirus programs, making it one of the most malware-riddled VPNs apps on Google Play. The researchers who compiled the report gave it an AV rank of thirteen.
Also, Betternet was reported to have fourteen tracking libraries, which are embedded into the source code of its Android app and may be used for tracking, analytics, or advertising reasons. For a VPN that claims to offer protection from malware, all of this is quite cynical.
In essence, you are the product when you use a free VPN like Betternet. Malware and tracking help the service collect your data, which is then used to send you targeted advertisements or sold to third parties for a profit. It is how companies monetize free VPN software.
Does Betternet keep logs?
If you go to Betternet’s website, you will struggle to find the words “no logs” anywhere on its pages. That’s because it logs various kinds of information about its users. Here’s what the VPN logs:
- Your ISP and approximate geolocation
- Originating IP address
- VPN connection timestamps
- Device ID, OS, model
- Non-personal domain names that customers visit
While this looks concerning at first glance, the company assures that it can’t link any browsing session to individual users. Still, it can sell logs of your information to third-party companies. If privacy is essential to you, you may want to go for a no logs VPN service.
Betternet IP Leak Protection
Betternet’s Settings has a “Prevent IP leaks” option that’s switched on by default. Since a VPN’s purpose is to mask your IP address, I can’t figure out why this is there. But keep it active since switching it off will reveal your DNS requests to your ISP. You also get a domain whitelisted that lets you choose sites external to the VPN tunnel.
Betternet’s free version also has ads, and advertisers may have access to your location, IMEI, wireless carrier, advertising ID, and MAC address. On top of that, it doesn’t have an ad blocker to help stop the annoying pop-ups from disrupting your user experience. That said, if you want to use a VPN to secure your data while using public WiFi, you may not have a problem with this aspect of the service.
Overall, Betternet lacks the privacy and security capabilities that people typically look for in a VPN service. Its logging policy is my biggest concern, as I’m not comfortable with the company collecting and sharing my data.
Does Betternet Work with Netflix?
Sorry, it doesn’t. While some of the best VPNs have global content on Netflix, such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN, many others still suffer from the coveted Netflix proxy error, including Betternet free.
I’m not surprised though, since free VPNs rarely contain the resources needed to get around the Netflix block.
Also, Betternet doesn’t offer any free server in the UK, so streaming BBC iPlayer is out of the question.
Plus, you’re unlikely to be able to stream Disney+, Hulu, HBO GO, and other services.
If you need a VPN for unblocking Netflix and other streaming services, it’s best to invest in a fast and reliable VPN.
Torrenting with Betternet
Because of slow speeds and the absence of a kill switch, I don’t consider Betternet to be a suitable VPN for torrenting.
While Betternet’s FAQs reveal that it supports torrenting on various devices, the unreliable speeds will certainly distort your experience, particularly if you’re far away from the US (the only country with hosting Betternet free’s server).
The lack of a kill switch and the company’s logging policy doesn’t help either. Your data could be exposed since there’s no kill switch to prevent your real IP from being revealed when you’re torrenting.
So, if you want to torrent safely, I would strongly recommend that you get a VPN with a no-logs policy, or at least a kill switch.
Betternet Chrome Extension
Betternet comes with a Google Chrome extension that encrypts your browser traffic.
What I loved most about it is that it allows you to connect to servers in various countries.
You can choose a server in the:
- The Netherlands
Unlike the main desktop app, the Betternet Chrome extension doesn’t restrict you to a single server in the United States.
Plus, it offers “Safe Shopping” – a feature that blocks phishing and malware websites to help you shop safely. And like the VPN itself, the Safe Shopping feature is completely free to use. Did I mention it also unlocks the best deals on your favorite online stores? That’s another reason to try it out.
But remember, the Chrome extension doesn’t protect apps outside of your web browser session. So if you’re looking to encrypt traffic for other apps, I’d recommend that you use Betternet’s desktop app.
Another thing – there are no add-ons for Safari, Opera, or Mozilla Firefox. If you use any of these as your default browser, you’re out of luck.
Betternet Desktop and Mobile Apps
Betternet offers native apps for the following desktop and mobile operating systems:
However, it doesn’t support any routers, Linux, or gaming consoles. And you can’t use it on streaming boxes like Roku either. So if you’re specifically looking for a VPN that works on these devices, you might want to check out ExpressVPN.
I tested Betternet’s Mac, Windows, and iOS apps. One of the best things I tested these apps for was malware through VirusTotal. Here’s a snapshot of the test for Betternet’s Mac app:
As you can see, VirusTotal didn’t find any malware, which was a sigh of relief given Betternet’s disturbing past.
I also used ipleak.net to check for DNS and IPv4 leaks. In both tests, none of the apps revealed signs of DNS or IP leaks on my devices. But I should mention that Betternet’s Chrome extension did result in a WebRTC and DNS leak. This means you should avoid using Betternet for Chrome if you’re looking to conceal your online activity.
Betternet not working on Windows
I had a friend test out Betternet’s Windows VPN app. He told me that he faced connection problems with various servers he tried connecting to.
Basically, he kept on receiving a connection error that kept on saying, “Please repair the application.”
I figured it might be due to congested servers or other issues with Betternet’s network. Given that the company offers a free VPN service, there’s a good chance that its server is frequently getting overwhelmed with requests from free users.
Can I use Betternet for Kodi?
You can’t. Even if the company offered support for Kodi, I wouldn’t recommend it as one of the best VPNs for accessing Kodi’s geo-blocked add-ons.
Since Betternet’s jurisdiction is based in the US, it’s not the ideal VPN for protecting your online privacy.
Plus, the service keeps connection logs and doesn’t have a kill switch, meaning your data is at risk of experiencing more than one leak.
As a free user, you won’t get 24/7 support from Betternet. There’s no live chat option either, which would have saved a lot of time. The good news is that you get access to a Help Center that’s fairly well organized, with categories for each compatible device, along with some FAQs and troubleshooting steps.
If you can’t find a resolution to your problem through the FAQs, you can try reaching out to Betternet’s team on Twitter.
I won’t guarantee that they’ll respond to your query as they typically redirect support questions to the standard system, but you can try.
Also, don’t waste your time emailing support without a premium subscription. A lot of people – including me – have tried doing so, only to receive a message stating: “Sorry, but we can’t respond personally.”
So I hope that if you run into any issues with Betternet, you can troubleshoot them via the Help Center.
Betternet Review Reddit
I searched Betternet VPN reviews on Reddit to see what people are saying about the service. Here’s a response from a user:
His/her thoughts are in line with my experience of using Betternet’s free VPN.
I also saw a person asking if Betternet has put a permanent data cap on its free VPN service, which wasn’t a thing before. But I couldn’t verify if the company used to offer an unlimited free version.
Other Redditors were asking if Betternet works with Popcorn Time and other media players. It, unfortunately, doesn’t.
My Verdict on Betternet Free VPN
While Betternet may be popular for offering a free VPN service, I don’t recommend it because of the risks. It’s also quite slow, and you’re restricted to only one server location in the US.
Plus, the Betternet Chrome extension suffers from WebRTC and DNS leaks. Even though it has an excellent Safe Shopping feature, it alone doesn’t warrant a good VPN.
But if you’re still keen to use a free VPN, try out ProtonVPN. It’s a Betternet alternative that offers unlimited data, and it’s private, safe, and secure, too. Another good option is Windscribe, which offers servers in 10 different locations and helps secure P2P traffic.