You must have heard the saying if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Free software, whether it’s an antivirus or a VPN service, might suffice the limited functionality you require, but they are probably harvesting your data to stay in business.
Trust is a significant factor when it comes to entrusting a service with your most confidential data. Unlike paid services, free ones are known to harvest your data and sell it to third-parties. Some even have that disclosed in their Terms of Service (something we rarely give a thought).
Avast in Hot Waters
Just recently, Avast’s popular antivirus software was discovered to be harvesting the browsing data of its users and selling it to advertisers. The company’s CEO has apologized and has said that it’s shutting down the subsidiary that made it possible.
Avast collected sensitive data stored on their user’s devices such as website destinations, search terms, and even what videos customers watched. The data was refurbished and further sold by their Jumpshot subsidiary.
Jumpshot claims to host data from over 100 million devices. The company has notable clients, including Google, Yelp, Microsoft, and Pepsi.
Here’s a short thread on Avast/Jumpshot.
Jumpshot was a tool that sold data on how people like you and me use the web.
Avast – the antivirus tool – recorded what their users were doing while browsing the web.
They anonymised that, and sold it to marketers via Jumpshot. pic.twitter.com/FMNnXpO2C0
— dan barker (@danbarker) January 31, 2020
Jumpshot acts like an online tracker that would package a user’s data into different products. Their most controversial service was the “All Click Feed.” This would allow Jumpshot’s clients to gain access to all the clicks a user makes on individual domains such as BestBuy, Facebook, etc.
These clients would pay Jumpshot millions of dollars for precise browsing data of online users so that they could be targeted effectively. Now imagine an antivirus and a VPN entity engaging in the very activities they are supposed to be defending their user’s against.
The core purpose of using a cybersecurity service such as a VPN and antivirus is to prevent unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots at hotels, airports, and other public places from spying on your traffic.
However, by using a free service, you’re essentially letting them spy on your traffic instead. Why trust a free VPN provider to gain access to your personal information?
Reasons Why a Free VPN isn’t worth it
Among several reasons, here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t trust free services, VPNs in particular:
- Compromises your online security
A free service is free for you only. While they’re not charging you anything, they’re making money by selling your private information, and that compromises your online security.
For all you know, the acclaimed encryption they’re offering doesn’t exist, or they don’t boast the servers they’re so proudly publicizing.
- Could track your online activity
Since the service is free, they’re probably keeping tabs on your online activities and targeting you with ads. By monitoring your likes and dislikes and websites you visit, they paint a better picture of you. For each ad, you click or view, they’re making money.
- Won’t gain you access to streaming websites
Free services offer limited functionality, especially when it comes to online streaming and online security. The most they are capable of is unlocking sites that are unavailable in your region.
Streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and others require a robust VPN service to access their servers and render you instant access to the content of your choice in a different region.
- Limit your bandwidth
You’ll face bandwidth caps and disconnections with a free service. Not to forget that your ISP will be throttling your internet connection when they observe unusual online activities.
- Slow down your internet connection
As a result of heavy internet usage, a free service will slow down your internet connection to conserve their bandwidth and provide it to other users.
- Shower you with pesky ads
Free services thrive on ads. Their entire business model is based around bombarding you with ads and selling your data to the third-parties.
- Sell your data to the highest bidder
If it’s free, it’s because you’re the product. Think about it, why would something be for free when they’ve got employees to pay, servers to manage, fixed, and operating costs?