Is using Popcorn Time without a VPN safe?

Stay safe using Popcorn Time with these VPNs

  1. ExpressVPN
  2. CyberGhost VPN
  3. Private Internet Access
  4. Surfshark
  5. VyprVPN

Popcorn Time is a popular application that lets people download video torrents directly into a custom player. Unlike regular torrenting clients, Popcorn Time does the hard work for you - allowing you to click on a video and watch it instantly. This automatic handling of tricky peer-to-peer (P2P) stuff has increased Popcorn Time’s popularity tremendously.

What Popcorn Time users don’t always realize is that streaming for free on Popcorn Time is piracy. Thus, the only way to stream on Popcorn Time without fear of repercussions is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Using Popcorn Time without a VPN is a massive risk that nobody should ever take.

 

The Popcorn Time app itself is completely legal, and you cannot get in trouble for the simple act of installing Popcorn Time. However, Popcorn Time provides access to a vast repository of video titles - 99% of which are copyrighted. Downloading that copyrighted content and viewing it with Popcorn Time is illegal, because you are viewing it without paying the copyright holder.

What if I get caught?

In some countries, using Popcorn Time personally will not get you in trouble. However, in most locations around the world, you can be prosecuted. You could also receive speculative invoicing letters from lawyers seeking damages on behalf of those copyright holders - both of which can be avoided by using a VPN with Popcorn Time. Either way, using Popcorn Time without a VPN is foolish - no matter where you live.

Is Popcorn Time Safe?

Generally, yes. The application itself is not malevolent if you download it from a reputable source (the official website - see below). However, there are rogue versions of the Popcorn Time client in existence, and those unofficial versions are often filled with malware by hackers. This makes it essential for users to be extremely careful about where they download Popcorn Time from. 

Which Popcorn Time should I use? 

Popcorn Time is an open source software that has been abandoned by its original creator. Various developers have since picked up the ball and run with it, creating their versions (known as “forks”) of it.

Unfortunately, some forks are deliberately malicious and will install malware on your system. Others simply demand that you pay for what should be free software. 

 

Be aware!

Reputable Popcorn Time forks do not cost anything. If you find one that does, run away from it very fast!

As of January 2020, the only Popcorn Time forks that we recommend are listed below - so stick with these when downloading the app. 

Popcorn Time.app

Popcorntime.app

Popcorn Time.app claims to be the most “official” version of Popcorn Time, although what that means with free and open source software remains open to question. It was, however, endorsed by Federico Abad (A.K.A. “Sebastian” -  Popcorn Time’s original developer) before its many name changes.

PT.app promotes use of its partner VPN.ht service. Please check our full VPN.ht Review. It is not terrible, but the tl:dr version is that we recommend using a third-party VPN service instead.

PT.app is available for Windows, macOS, Linux (tarball), Android, and Android TV (5.0+). The default catalog is enormous and up-to-date. Steaming via Chromecast, Airplay, and DLNA is also supported and works without issue in our tests. 

Popcorn Time.is

Popcorntime.is

Previously, it was called Popcorn Time.to, now it's called Popcorn Time.is. Though, it still features the slogan: “this Popcorn Time service will never be taken down.” Along with PT.sh, it been around almost since the beginning, and many features now considered standard in Popcorn Time were pioneered by this fork. 

As with PT.app, PT.is has teamed up with a VPN service - in this case Anonymous VPN. There are a few annoyances with this (more than with PT.app), but they are easily ignored in favor of using a better third-party option (such as the VPNs listed in this article).  

Popcorn Time.io is available for Windows, macOS Linux, and Android (4.0+). There is even an iOS version, although this requires jailbreaking your device and installing Cydia to run. 

Most content is available in both 720p and 1080p resolutions. In our subjective experience, PT.is has a better library than PT.app, especially when it comes to TV shows.  

Some considerations 

Note that different Popcorn Time forks source their libraries from different torrent sites, so available titles may vary a little depending on which version you use.

It is also worth noting that the forks listed below have undergone various name changes during their often tumultuous histories. For ease of understanding, we simply refer to them by their current names. Due to ongoing animosity between the two, both tend to throw unfounded accusations at one another.

 

Although rare, it is also potentially possible for Popcorn Time to result in users downloading a virus or malware. For this reason, we highly advise anybody using Popcorn Time to have a good antivirus in place with real-time protection and a reliable VPN installed.

Does Popcorn Time have a VPN built in?

There are various versions of Popcorn Time in circulation, these different Popcorn Time “forks” are all slightly different and some of them have a VPN built in to their service. Popcorntime.is has partnered with AnonymousVPN to provide VPN services to its users. However, that VPN is generally slow and unreliable. 

PT.sh also provides built in VPN functionality, via its partner, VPN.ht. Again, this VPN is not particularly good, and we highly recommend subscribing to a third party service instead.

Using a Popcorn Time-affiliated VPN is better than using no VPN at all, however, you are still opening yourself up to risks when using these sub-par services.

The Popcorn Time VPNs we recommend are all world class services with strong no logs policies and military grade encryption. This ensures that when you use Popcorn Time, there is no risk of your data being intercepted by your ISP or the government. 

Can I use Popcorn Time without a VPN?

There is nothing stopping you from using Popcorn Time without a VPN. However, if you do, your ISP will know exactly what TV shows and movies you have pirated. This could lead to fines or even prosecution. The best-case scenario is that your ISP may serve you a cease and desist letter and perhaps even cut off your net.

No matter which way you look at it, using Popcorn Time without a VPN is incredibly risky, which is why even Popcorn Time’s developers urge people only to use it with a VPN. On the other hand, it is vital to remember that not every VPN is equal. 

Some VPNs keep logs, which means that if they are approached, they will have records about what its users have done online. Other VPNs (primarily free ones) can contain spyware and have been found to lie about the level of encryption they provide. Some free services don’t even use encryption at all. Using this kind of VPN is putting you at huge amounts of risk. 

In addition, some VPNs are incredibly slow. This makes them useless for streaming vast amounts of video content on Popcorn Time. For this reason, it is essential that you subscribe to a highly reputable VPN provider that is both fast and secure. You can use the following link to find more information about the five best VPNs for Popcorn Time. Below, we have included the shortlist to give you a quick look:

These are the VPNs we recommend for Popcorn Time

If you want any more information on the VPNs listed below, make sure you check out our Best VPNs for Popcorn Time guide.

  1. ExpressVPN - is a super-fast VPN with amazing security - perfect for streaming Popcorn Time
  2. CyberGhost VPN - easy to use and secure thanks to its no logs policy
  3. Private Internet Access - another no logs VPN that is great for accessing PT
  4. Surfshark - Strong presence, no-logs policy
  5. VyprVPN - A fast VPN that marries strong privacy with excellent unblocking capabilities

Other ways to stay safe when using PT

A VPN should be your priority when using Popcorn Time. Always ensure that your VPN is connected before using the service. Below we have included more advice to ensure you protect yourself as much as possible: 

  1. Turn on the Kill Switch. This VPN feature ensures that if your VPN connection fails for some reason, you do not leak unencrypted data to your ISP. If your VPN connection fails while you are using Popcorn Time, your ISP is able to see you are downloading content. For this reason, it’s important to engage the kill switch, which cuts off your internet if the VPN connection fails.

  2. Use an active antivirus with real time malware protection. When downloading files via Popcorn Time, it is possible that you will come across malware. An active antivirus will scan all incoming downloads for exploits to keep your system safe.

  3. Set up a sandboxed environment on your PC. If you set up a virtual machine on your device to watch Popcorn Time, all downloaded files will be segregated from the rest of your system. This will isolate any malware from the rest of your system if you do accidentally become infected.

Written by: Ray Walsh

Digital privacy expert with 5 years experience testing and reviewing VPNs. He's been quoted in The Express, The Times, The Washington Post, The Register, CNET & many more. 

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