Alternative Choices for You
Betternet is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider with 38 million users worldwide. It is a free service that has come under a lot of criticism in the past year. This is mainly due to a CSIRO study that found it to be serving adverts to its users. However, that same study discovered that 75% of free VPN apps use similar tracking to serve adverts.
This is one reason why ProPrivacy.com regularly reminds consumers about the difference between paid VPNs and free VPNs. Running a VPN isn’t easy – or cheap. Thus it’s common for free VPN services to create revenue by serving adverts. Is Betternet guilty of this? Yes. Is it any worse than the other 75% of free VPNs out there? Well, with 14 tracking libraries for serving adverts, it may not be worse, but it is definitely better at it.
This review is of Betternet’s premium (paid) service. The paid Betternet service wasn’t criticized by the CSIRO study and isn’t funded by advertising. As such, any complaints made about Betternet’s free VPN do not necessarily apply to the premium service.
If the free Betternet VPN service is your only interest, then please check out the relevant subsection below. For everybody else, let’s dive in and see if the paid Betternet service can compete with other premium VPN services.
- No adverts on the premium version
- Fast connection speeds
- Seven-day free trial for premium service
- 30-day money-back guarantee for premium service
- Free version
- Free version serves adverts (has tracking libraries)
- Keeps logs (free version)
- Cooperates with information demands by the authorities
- IP address and Domain Name System (DNS) leaks
- No kill switch
- Slow connections (on free version)
- Free service only has US servers
The paid Betternet plan provides the following features:
- Servers in ten countries: Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Australia, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Canada and seven US cities. With the free VPN, subscribers only get access to one server in the US, which is allocated at random.
- Five simultaneous connections
- No adverts (unlike the free version)
- Free access to a browser extension for Chrome
- Apps for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android
- OpenVPN encryption
Speed and Performance
I performed speed tests from the UK, using beta.speedtest.net. For each category, I performed five tests. Base tests were done for both the US and UK without a VPN first. I used test servers in the US (New York) and UK (London). The Netherlands VPN server was tested from the London test server. The US New York server was tested from a New York test server.
See our full speed test explanation for more detail.
The VPN slowed my download speeds considerably. The good news is that upload speeds remained pretty similar with and without the VPN engaged. In the UK tests, the UK Betternet server brought down the average connection speed from 48.20 Mbps to 18.62 Mbps. The Dutch server fared a little better. Its average download speed over five tests was 29.86 Mbps. Although these are pretty big drops, they aren’t the worst I’ve seen by any stretch of the imagination. You could still stream in HD.
The performance on the New York server was worse. My base test from the UK to the US achieved an average speed of 38.78 Mbps. Betternet’s New York server brought my average download speed down to 7.82 Mbps. Not great.
I checked online, and it appears that I got lucky with my download speeds. Subscribers often complain of even slower speeds. Most people don’t believe that Betternet can be used to unblock streams as it’s just too slow and results in a lot of buffering.
IP Leaks and DNS Leaks
ProPrivacy.com SpeedTest (average)
I checked for Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) and DNS leaks using ipleak.net. I performed these tests while using the Betternet London server. In both tests, Betternet for Windows showed no IP leaks or DNS leaks on my system. I was unable to test for IPv6 leaks because my Internet Service Provider (ISP) doesn’t provide IPv6 connections.
The Chrome proxy browser extension did result in a DNS leak and a Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) leak. As such, I recommend against using the Betternet browser proxy extensions for privacy. For unblocking content they may well work, but for concealing what you did online you’ll need to stick to the full VPN service.
The Firefox proxy browser should be avoided. It doesn’t even conceal your true IP address and is literally completely useless.
Test Your VPN
Since writing this, we have created our very own VPN testing tool. Our tool is the easiest to use out there and it gives 100% accurate results..
I tried to access US streaming services from the UK by using the VPN to mask my true location. I was unable to access watch US Netflix using the premium VPN connected to a US server. The ABC website, however, allowed me to watch a show without any issues. Betternet VPN also successfully unblocked NBC.com. I tested the UK server to see if I could watch iPlayer, and found it to work fine.
To access the premium version of Betternet, you must first download the free version. Using that software, you can then upgrade. Betternet VPN premium only comes in one plan, with price variations based on the subscription period. Committing for a longer period of time gives you a hefty loyalty discount. The three price options are as follows:
You can subscribe for one month, six months, or a year. The payment process sets up a recurring billing agreement. If you don’t cancel the agreement before your subscription ends, Betternet will automatically charge you for another period.
The Betternet Refund Policy
Betternet provides a 30-day money-back guarantee to allow you to test the premium service. However, the refund is only given if you’ve used less than 50 MB of data. As such, you have to ask for your money back during the 30-day period and with only minimal use. 50 Mb is a very small amount of usage allowance. This means that, in reality, it’s very hard to qualify for a refund. This is really mean: it’s the worst 30-day money back guarantee I have seen from a VPN.
A better option is to use the seven-day free trial of the premium account. Sadly, to use the free trial you must enter your credit card details. If you don’t cancel within the seven-day trial period, Betternet will automatically put you onto the monthly tariff, which is the most expensive plan. As such, be sure to cancel before your seven days are up if you’re not keen on the service.
The website is professional and easy to navigate. There aren’t a huge number of pages on the site. Visitors are directed to the free app download button. Frustratingly, you can’t see the cost of the premium service without downloading the free app. In fact, you would never even know Betternet VPN had a premium service from visiting the website.
Eventually, I did find a mention of the premium service on the “How We Make Money” page (and in a few responses displayed in the help center’s knowledge base).
The website’s main menu purposefully follows you down the page as you scroll down, which is useful. On the right-hand side, you’ll find the link to download the VPN client. If you’re going to use the free VPN, or want access to the premium service – including the 7-day free trial – you’ll need to click here.
Getting hold of the Betternet app isn’t hard. Simply head over to the website and download via the right-hand corner at the top of the page. When you launch the app, it will ask if you want to trial the premium VPN for seven days. If you prefer to use the free VPN, decline. Once the app has launched, you can still upgrade to premium (including using the seven-day free trial).
I couldn’t see the premium plan in the app until I turned off my ad blockers (Privacy Badger and ABP). This is a weird bug because I was using the standalone VPN for Windows – not a Chrome extension.
Once you’ve upgraded to premium by selecting a plan and paying (or selecting the seven-day free trial), you can select from one of the ten country locations. To connect, simply select a server from the list and press the “Connect” button. I found the VPN to connect quickly and without issues.
When a connection is established, the shield turns blue and looks happy to let you know all is well.
If you’re signing up to Betternet for the first time, I suggest using the “Try Free” option. Although this leads on to the more expensive monthly plan, you can simply cancel the free trial and join up using the yearly plan if you like the service. Using the free trial will give you a good idea of what Betternet is like, allowing you to decide whether you want to invest.
Click on the green button to sign up for the free trial. This opens up a page in your default browser, where you need to fill in your credit card details.
Once your credit card is authorized, the cartoon shield on the website turns happy and green. Check your inbox for an invoice from Betternet – you now have a bill for $0. You will know that you’ve gone pro because the shield in the app will now be wearing a crown.
As a premium customer, you can select a server from the server list. Sadly, this is all you can do. Betternet doesn’t permit users to change VPN protocol or specify whether they want to use OpenVPN Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) or User Datagram Protocol (UDP).
In fact, Betternet is missing all of the VPN features that would usually lead one to call a service “premium.” There’s no kill switch, no DNS leak protection, no auto-connect, no cloaking and no “stealth” technology. Nor are there port forwarding options. Nothing. Considering this is the paid service, it is completely underwhelming.
To select a server location, click on ‘Select Virtual Location.’ You get ten countries, and seven cities in the US to choose from. This is a reasonable amount of choice. However, considering that there are many VPNs on the market with upwards of 50 countries in their repertoire, it’s hardly mind-blowing.
To switch between server locations, click on a new server. You don’t need to disconnect before switching servers and reconnecting – it will do it automatically.
The Betternet support mobile users with a Android VPN and iOS VPN apps. They support windows users and also have a great Mac VPN client. Unfortunately they do not offer a Linux VPN, so if this is your main OS you may need to consider other options. The browser extension is available for Chrome and Firefox.
Sadly, the browser extensions are not well designed and have a number of bugs. I found the Chrome extension to lie about server locations (the UK server actually provided me with an IP address in the US). The Firefox extension doesn’t work properly at all. All in all, I recommend staying away from these extensions completely.
The Firefox proxy extension is a disaster. In order to get it to work, you first have to follow a guide in its FAQ. Following the guide to make the extension actually connect to the correct proxy server is an annoyance. Even when you go the trouble of doing it, the extension fails to conceal your true IP address. Betternet ought to just delete this app, but for some unknown reason, it persists with providing it. I recommend staying away from this extension. I can only presume that Betternet keeps this extension available to make the service seem better than it really is.
The Chrome extension is much better than it’s Firefox counterpart. However, it does have the odd bug here and there. Connecting to the UK server doesn’t always work, and tests using ipleak.net revealed a US IP address on some occasions and a US IP address on others. This is frustrating if you specifically want to use British services, so you can watch BBC iPlayer abroad!
Unlike the Firefox extension, the Chrome app is clearly recent (it has the same graphical interface as the current version of the app), and it does get the job done. If you intend to use this extension, however, I recommend keeping an eye on where it has actually connected you.
When you turn on the Chrome extension, it takes over your Chrome browser’s proxy settings. It is a proxy rather than a full VPN service. Also worth remembering is the fact that this extension was found to have both DNS leaks and WebRTC bug leaks (these reveal where you really are). For this reason, the Betternet Chrome proxy app is good for unblocking content but not for privacy or security.
Betternet Free VPN
Perhaps the best thing about Betternet’s free app is that you can use it without handing over any personal data – not even an email address. Having said that, Betternet does install a number of tracking libraries onto the machine that you install the free VPN on. This is done to figure out your preferences and serve adverts to your IP address.
What’s more, the advertising companies that Betternet works with (Anchor Free and all of its affiliates) are permitted to install extra cookies onto your devices in order to keep tabs on whether the adverts work (if you actually visit one of the sites that they advertise, they will know that the Betternet advert succeeded in interesting you).
If this doesn’t bother you, then Betternet is a pretty good free VPN that will allow you to unblock content. However, if privacy and security are a concern, I recommend looking elsewhere
Premium users should be able to access support through the app. To do so, click on the hamburger menu in the top left, followed by “Contact Us” on the next screen. You must specify the nature of your help request at this stage.
Sadly, clicking on any of those choices just opens your browser on its standard start page. It seems that the app is buggy and Betternet hasn’t bothered to fix it: customer care doesn’t seem to be high on the agenda.
As such, you’ll need to go to the website to access the help desk. Even this can be frustrating, because there’s no obvious link in the main menu for customer support. To find it, scroll down to the bottom of the homepage and click on “Help Center.”
Considering that the best VPN providers (which cost a similar amount) have 24/7 live chat support, Betternet isn’t fulfilling the promise of being a “proper” premium VPN.
The help center is a page where you can search for common answers to problems. The FAQs are categorized by operating system. You can search for help by using the search box above those operating system buttons.
The Betternet Help Desk Team
To get help, open a support ticket by clicking on “Submit a request” at the top of the help center.
After selecting the subject of your message, other fields appear below. In addition to normal information like your email address (so that they can reply), you have to provide a whole host of details, including which country you’re in, and which operating system you use. I found this to be rather invasive, but thankfully you don’t have to fill in every field to ask your question. Below is my attempt to find out what encryption Betternet uses:
When you click “Submit,” you’ll receive an auto-response email. The response to your help request will also come by email. You’ll receive a further email prompting you to set up a support account at the Betternet site.
You can check your ‘activity’ (support tickets) by logging into the help center with your email address and password. You can respond to support responses by email or by using the help center support ticket records.
The support team responds slowly. Agents don’t seem to know ‘techy’ details about the service. This is fairly typical and not particularly troubling. However, what is worrying is that Betternet wasn’t able to come up with any good answers even after I pressed. Each time I tried, I had to wait about a day for the reply, which then contained little to no valuable information.
What’s more, although Betternet promises better response times on the premium service, from my experience this doesn’t seem to be true. In the end, I decided to ditch my role as a “mystery shopper” and came clean about being a professional VPN reviewer. Even then responses took ages, and Betternet didn’t supply me with the important encryption details I needed.
Privacy and Security
Sadly, Betternet is based in Canada, which is one of the nations in the Five Eyes surveillance agreement. This means that Betternet is not in a country that we consider to be good for privacy.
Here is the Betternet privacy promise from its homepage:
This means that it’s possible for a time correlation attack to be mounted on users of Betternet’s premium and free services. This kind of attack uses the connection timestamps and IP address logs.
This is a poorly written policy that leaves too many questions unanswered to provide peace of mind.
The Betternet terms of service (ToS) allow third-party advertisers to deliver cookies onto your devices. The ToS explains that this is to enable advertisers to estimate the effectiveness of their campaigns. Betternet also says that it doesn’t exert any control over the practices of those third parties. Finally, Betternet absolves itself from any responsibility for loss or damage caused by those third parties. This is troubling, particularly when you realize that it isn’t clear whether this is only happening on the free version.
Betternet isn’t forthcoming with details about its encryption standards. In my experience, this is always the case with VPNs that have weak or outdated encryption. The Betternet FAQ says the VPN uses OpenVPN with AES-256 encryption and also has L2TP/IPSec with a 128-bit key.
Sadly, it doesn’t explain where it deploys these different tunneling protocols. There’s no option on the desktop or mobile apps to change the encryption protocol. This means that some versions of the Betternet software run OpenVPN, while others run L2TP/IPsec. I asked Betternet to tell me which client runs which protocol, but they didn’t answer. In fact, my ticket went from “open” to “solved” without any response from the firm whatsoever.
I was also unable to get information about which data authentication method Betternet uses. The staff couldn’t tell me what encryption is used for session establishment and key distribution, hash size, or authentication. In addition, I couldn’t find out the difference between the encryption on the data and control channels – or if Betternet VPN implements Perfect Forward Secrecy.
These are important details. VPN encryption is only as strong as its weakest point. This means that, despite being “OpenVPN” that implements “AES-256,” Betternet could actually fall short of our stringent minimum standards for security. This would make it easy to hack into the VPN tunnel and discover what you’re doing online. Without that data, I can’t tell you how secure Betternet is. To be safe, we must presume that it is weak.
VPNs that don’t disclose their encryption are always lacking in one way or another – because good encryption is worth shouting from the rooftops about.
- No IP leaks or DNS leaks on the Windows app
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- One-week free trial
- Free VPN
- Easy to use
I wasn’t so sure about:
- Encryption implementation is unclear.
- Based in Canada (part of the Five Eyes surveillance agreement)
- Slows connections
- No kill switch
- No auto connect
- No stealth mode
- No DNS leak protection
- Broken Firefox add-on
- Chrome extension sends UK traffic to US server
- Willingness to cooperate with court orders
- 50 MB data limit for refund (insanely small)
- Terrible customer support
For free, Betternet serves adverts and is slow. However, it does have its uses for people in desperate need of a free VPN (for getting around news website blocks in harsh political regimes, for example). That said, I just don’t think Betternet is worth paying any money for. As such, I recommend looking elsewhere for a truly premium service.