VPN has its limits and downsides that are difficult to catch without fully understanding how it works.
The last thing you want to do is get a yearly subscription only to find out that the VPN slows your internet to a crawl, the service you wish to unblock with VPN blocks VPN users, or worse, your country doesn’t allow VPNs, and you face legal action.
Checking for such issues before paying for a subscription is difficult, as most VPN services offer paid trial periods with a sketchy money-back guarantee. Therefore, I am going to list common VPN problems, so you make the right decision before paying for a VPN.
VPN Negatively Affects Internet Speed
No matter which VPN you may use, it will slow down your internet a bit and increase your ping. A VPN works as a separate service that encrypts your connection and routes the traffic through its servers. Of course, the encryption and routing process requires bandwidth, so your overall internet speed takes a hit.
How much it will slow down depends on factors like encryption type, server location, server conjunction, etc. If you have good internet speed and a higher ping doesn’t impact your work (like browsing the web), then VPN won’t be too much of a problem.
To give you an idea, I have tested the slowdown in speed using CyberGhost VPN and connecting to one of their servers in Washington, USA.
Without a VPN, I get a consistent 20Mbps speed with 4-5 ping when connecting to a nearby tower, as you can see in the below screenshot.
When connected via the VPN, I get download speeds constantly changing between 15-17Mbps and a ping of 400ms. That’s a 3-5Mbps decrease in speed while using a reputable VPN service. It might not seem much, but it’s a considerable decrease for users with only 5-10Mbps speed, which is average for many developing countries.
High ping is another big issue as it basically adds constant delay to every click you make that opens new information. In my case, 400ms adds 0.4second delay. If I make 50 clicks in a browsing session, that’s a 20-second unavoidable total delay, no matter how good my connection may be. Not to mention, it makes active reaction-based content like video games completely unusable.
Before paying for a VPN, ensure your internet speed can handle it and that the high ping might impact your work. You should also go for reputable VPN services like ExpressVPN or NordVPN, which are known to have optimized connections.
VPNs can get Banned by Services
One of the most common uses of VPNs is to get access to websites and services that are geo-restricted, such as YouTube, Netflix, HULU, Steam, and many more. However, many of these services try to combat this issue by blocking VPN use.
Some of these services block known VPN IP addresses or even outright ban your account on the service if they detect VPN use. For example, Steam warns users that they may put restrictions on their accounts if they will use a VPN to activate gifts or access region-based prices.
This is a constant battle between online services and VPN providers, where services try to identify VPN users to take action against them, and VPN providers try to skip past their detection methods to offer reliable service.
If you are buying a VPN to access geo-restricted service, your best bet is to get a VPN that constantly battles anti-VPN practices. For example, ExpressVPN battles Netflix restrictions by always having multiple servers ready to connect to Netflix, even from the same country.
VPNs Disconnect Unexpectedly
Connection drop is a common problem that all VPNs face, some more than others. As the servers have limited capacity, VPNs have to disconnect you to change servers. Servers can also face problems leading to complete disconnection until you retry from a different server.
When the VPN disconnects, your original IP becomes visible, and you become trackable again, which is completely against the purpose of VPNs to make you anonymous online. To solve this, most reputable VPN services have a “Kill Switch” that immediately disconnects the internet as soon as the VPN disconnects.
However, this still means you will get disconnected from the internet from time to time. If you are using a VPN for gaming or online meetings, this can be quite a deterrent. Unfortunately, there is no way around this problem. Make sure you use a reputable VPN service that also offers a Kill Switch, like Proton VPN or PureVPN.
Countries Policies against VPN
A VPN hides you and your activity online to do whatever you like without being tracked. Of course, this is something governments of many countries don’t like, as people can commit online crimes and even go against the government.
Many countries have regulations specifically for VPN use, from forcing VPN companies to record customer data to completely banning VPNs. Some prominent countries with regulations against VPNs include China, India, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, Turkey, and UAE.
China and Iran only allow government-approved VPNs, India requires VPN companies to record customer information, and North Korea completely bans VPN use. The fourteen eyes countries are another problem as they could force VPN companies to reveal data.
Before buying a VPN, check if there are any specific regulations that may affect your VPN use. This is especially a problem if you travel a lot, as you might not be able to use your current VPN subscription if you travel to a country with VPN restrictions.
Your Data Security isn’t Guaranteed
The VPN protects your data from the online world, but who is protecting your data from the VPN companies? When you are asking the VPN company to encrypt and protect your data, you are basically giving them your data and expecting them not to track or use it.
Unfortunately, there is no way to know what the VPN company is doing with your data, you just have to trust them when they say they have a “no-logs” policy. Whether they were collecting data or not is usually revealed in data breaches, like the UFO VPN data breach.
VPN companies can track your data to improve their services, sell it to advertisers, and give it to government bodies if criminal activity is detected.
You can also try going for VPNs that use RAM-disk servers, ensuring your data is deleted every time the server restarts. As RAM loses all data on every restart or power outage, it’s impossible to store your data on those servers permanently. ExpressVPN and NordVPN are good examples of such VPNs.
Free VPN is Worse than No VPN
If you are thinking of giving a free VPN a try before going for a paid one, you should think twice. Like most other free things on the internet, free VPNs also need to use other methods to make money.
This could include selling your data, showing ads (browser hijacking included), advertising their other paid products, asking for donations, or all of these together.
Of course, there are also companies with much more ill intentions, like stealing financial information or infecting your device with malware.
The best use of a free VPN I can think of is accessing geo-restricted content while you don’t mind being tracked or your data being sold. Even then, you should go for a reputable one — like the Opera browser built-in VPN — to avoid ads or malware.
If you want to try a VPN before buying one, then it’s best to buy a free trial of a reputable VPN service with a money-back guarantee. Unfortunately, your options are very limited if you want a fully functional free trial without pulling out your credit card. The best I could find is the CyberGhost 1-day free trial with full functionality.
VPN can Affect your Search Results
Search engines (especially Google) use your current location to provide search results accordingly. This doesn’t affect all search queries, but queries like shopping or news will heavily depend on your location to be relevant to you.
As VPN shows your location in a different country to search engines, they will also show irrelevant results for many searches. In the below screenshots, you can see that my search results completely change for the same keyword when I connect to a US server using a VPN.
This is also true for websites that have different subdomains depending on regions, like Amazon. For example, if you are from India but connected to a UK VPN server, amazon.com will open the amazon.co.uk store instead of amazon.in.
Disabling the VPN is your best bet if you want results personalized to your real location. Although you can also use DuckDuckGo if you don’t want personalized results at all.
A VPN Doesn’t Make you Untouchable
Just because a VPN encrypts your connection doesn’t mean you can do whatever you like on the web, and there will be no consequences. VPN protects your data from hackers and trackers by encrypting your activity. However, there are still many ways to track you.
A VPN won’t protect tracking from browser cookies or services you are already logged into. If you are logged into your Google account, then a VPN can’t stop Google from tracking you.
You are also not safe from malware or phishing attacks that you specifically click on to download or access. This also means malware can control your device to disable security or VPN to access your data.
I have already talked about how VPNs can keep a log of your data and give it to the government, and VPN disconnections can reveal you. So it’s safe to assume VPN is a strong online protection tool but not a license to commit online crimes.
To stay on the safe side, use a reputable VPN, browse in incognito mode, don’t log in anywhere unless required, and don’t do anything illegal that could lead to cops knocking on your door.
My Thoughts on VPNs👨💻
In the current time, when almost every click you make online has tracking attached to it, VPN is needed if you value your data. Besides, there are so many other online activities where VPN is a must. Just make sure you be a good online citizen and don’t do anything illegal. You might get away with torrenting or accessing geo-restricted content, but fiddling with the dark web is a no-no.
Now that you are ready to buy a VPN, ensure you give weight to these important VPN features.
For over 9 years, Karrar has been writing about everything Windows and Google with a strict focus on improving security and finding ways to get more out of our devices.