VPN Review Scoring Criteria

Every review on ProPrivacy.com has a score associated with it. But what does that score mean? Over the years, we've gathered a tremendous amount of data and user feedback on what makes a great VPN. At the end of 2018, we took this data and created a brand new scoring system for the ProPrivacy.com Awards. We are currently in the process of applying this same scoring matrix to each of our reviews. 

ProPrivacy.com reviews are designed to be user friendly so that anyone, no matter their experience, can understand them. But look under the hood and we have completely overhauled our rating system. The aim is to remove as much bias as possible and ensure our reviews are 100% impartial.

Below is a detailed breakdown of the scoring criteria. For a detailed analysis, you can download our ProPrivacy.com Audit 2019.

Privacy

Logs: Zero:10 

- 2 Aggregated or Anonymised

-2 Bandwidth

-2 Timestamp only

-5 If timestamp associated with IP addresses

-5 IP addresses. 

Min score: 0.

Jurisdiction:

FVEY: 3

EU with DRD: 4

EU with no DRD for VPNs: 6 

Hong Kong 10

Kill switch:

+3 for each platform supported (note: we considered an additional - 2 if reactive or +2 if system-wide, but the logistics of testing this on all platforms is prohibitive)

Max 10.

DNS servers

Uses own servers: 10

Uses third party servers but proxies request: 8

Ends DNS requests direct and unproxied to third part servers: 0

DNS leaks: 10 

-5 per platform if IPv4 leak detected on Windows or macOS 

-3 per platform if IPv6 leak detected on Windows or macOS 

WebRTC leaks: Same as for DNS leaks (+ discretionary bonus points for mitigation efforts. Guides that are not obvious to those not actively looking do not count)

Bare metal servers

Yes: 10

Mixed but labelled: 8

Mixed unlabelled but can find out: 6 

Mixed unlabelled but cannot find out: 2

None: 0

OpenVPN Implementation

Exceeds our minimum recommendations in every way: 5 (-1 each aspect that meets but does not exceed our minimum recommendations) 

Min score: 3 if meets our recommendations. 

-3 for each aspect does not meet our minimum recommendations. 

Min score: 0

Obfuscation tech

Various and technically effective: 5

One that seems to work: 3

Website tracking:

None: 5

Only self-hosted: 4

Minimal with no Google trackers (or similar): 3

Minimal with no Google Analytics 2, Google Analytics: 0

Bonus points

Tor through VPN: 5

VPN through Tor: 2

Double VPN: 2. 

Max 5.  

Negative points can also be awarded here to account for privacy concerns no addressed elsewhere. Max -5.

The maximum possible score is 95. 

Score/95 x 10 = Score /10. Round to nearest whole number. 

Customer Service

Live Chat

Yes: 5 

No: 0.

Hours support is available (whether email or Live Chat): 

24/7: 10

16/7: 7

10/7 (office hours): 4. 

-2 per day per week support is not available (e.g. support not available over weekends -4) 

Money Back Guarantee

30-days+: 10

14-days: 8

7-days: 7

3-days: 5

1 day: 3 (even a short money back period is a lot more useful than none). 

Points to be deducted for limitations to the guarantee: 

10 GB data limit: -4

2GB data limit: -6

Must justify why want to cancel: -4

Discretionary penalties for all impediments to obtaining money back, including routine complaints from customers could not obtain a refund.

Free Trial

Full plan 7-days+: 10

Full plan 1-day: 4

Limited “free accounts” with no time limit: 4-6 (but check Free Category to assess limitations). 

Requires card details: Half points

Live Test

We send each provider two easy questions and two challenging questions. We then marked them based on how long it took to answer each question and how good the answers were.

Response time: Note that providers have already been marked on whether they offer Live Chat and 24/h support, so were not further penalized here if, for example, they only offer email support during their office hours.

Response times therefore assume questions are made during hours that support (should) be available, or are based on the earliest time we could reasonably expect an answer (i.e. the time support staff are supposed to get into work).

We also factor in that people expect to wait longer for email support. 

Live chat: 

Instant: 10

10 minutes: 8

30 minutes: 6

1 hour: 4

6 hours: 2

Next day: 1

More than that: 0

Email: 

30-minutes: 10

1 hour: 8

3 hours: 6

6 hours: 4

Next day: 2

More than that: 0.

Quality: The above score assumes a perfect response: accurate, knowledgeable, and detailed.  Responses that lack clarity*, are inaccurate, or where the staff member simply doesn’t know the answer will be penalized at the judge’s discretion (potentially very heavily – a quick reasons that utterly fails the question is not much use at all).

* If an initial lack of clarity was due to simple confusion or misunderstanding that was quickly cleared up, we did not penalize. 

Hard Questions (each):  

Response time: It would be unfair of us to expect frontline Line Chat support staff to have very detailed technical knowledge, but we do expect them to pass on hard questions to more knowable staff members for support within reasonable a timeframe.

We do not expect this expert support to be instant, however, and understand that it is usually only available during providers’ office hours.

When asking the questions, we specifically request that they be passed onto technical experts, and that an immediate response is not required. We do this in order to discourage inexperienced frontline staff, who might feel under performance pressures, from taking a stab at the answers themselves.

Response time

1 hour: 10

6 hours: 9

12 hours: 8

Next day: 7

3 days: 3

1 week: 1

More than that: 0

Quality: The above score assumes a perfect response: accurate, knowledgeable, and detailed.  Responses that lack clarity, are inaccurate, partial, or simply don’t answer the question will be penalized at the judge’s discretion (potentially very heavily – a reasons that utterly fails the question is not much use at all).

Not that given the more detailed nature of the questions, the fact that should have been handled by experts, and the increased expected response times involved, we were less tolerant of lack of clarity in answers to hard questions than we were for easy ones).

The maximum possible score is 75, but it should be noted that no providers are extremely generous with both Money Back guarantees and free trial (although some do offer both).

Speed

Our scientific speed test system requires OpenVPN files. We test all VPNs using speedtest.net for reviews but there are variables outside our control if not using the ProPrivacy.com SpeedTest system.

 It is worth noting that although highly secure (if implemented well), OpenVPN is not the fastest VPN protocol out there. It is therefore only fair that we test all, services using OpenVPN in order to provide a like-for-like comparison. 

Streaming platforms

US Netflix: 3

BBC iPlayer: 3

Hulu: 2

1 point for smaller services. 

Max score of 10

Overall Score

Most scores will have some discretionary element, but these are our guidelines. Any deviation from the guidelines will be explained in the provider reviews

Some providers offer different features at different  price points. We base all scores on what we deem to be the most popular or “standard” plan available. Typically this will be the cheapest pain that offers access to all the key features.

Privacy: Score from for Privacy Category converted to /10. 

Customer Service: Score from Customer Service Category converted to /10 

Countries: Total number of countries/10 (x2 if all bare metal servers). Max score = 10.

Speed: Our weighted speed results over the last two month period converted to /10 (based on highest score = 10/10). Where we do not have data pertaining to the last two month period we have extrapolated based on the data we do have.

The weighted speed calculation is as follows: 60% Average speed + 40% Max speed. 

Port Forwarding

Yes: 2

No: 0

Simultaneous connections

1 point per connection allowed /2 (5 max). 

Pricing

14 – monthly price in USD if paid annually. 

Max score 10.

Platforms: We assume support of some kind for all core platforms (Windows, macOS, Android and iOS) in our base scores. 

No dedicated app for a core platform: -1 per platform

No support at all for a core platform: -3 per platform

GUI app for Linux: +2

Some router support: +1

Strong router support +2

Discretionary +1 or +2 bonus points for very strong multi-platform support for other devices

**The scoring criteria is constantly being updated based on feedback from users and providers. We strive to keep the information on this page updated but please contact us if you have any questions or concerns



Written by: Sean McGrath

Sean McGrath is Editor of ProPrivacy.com. An experienced investigative journalist, writer and editor, he has worked for some of the world's best-known IT publications including the ComputerWeekly, PCPro, TechWeekEurope & InformationWeek. He regularly comments on industry matters for the likes of Forbes, Silicon, iTWire, Cyber Defense Magazine & Android Headlines.

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