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Our previous coverage found that Hola isn't too different in principle to a Ponzi scheme, in that each user's bandwidth, in addition to (possibly, but not ever conclusively) data is being leveraged to monetize the entire service for those at the top. Hola previously defended its business model, claiming to have been forthright about sharing user bandwidth and turning each user into an exit node, in a similar vein to where each user functions just like a Tor exit relay. However, this is something we at ProPrivacy and the EFF staunchly advise against as you could be held liable for any malicious, illegal, or otherwise unsavory traffic passing through your connection.
Hola is based in Israel and has an IP count in the millions with a large subscriber base, including those who signup to the Luminati Business proxy (another scam-brick in the wall). If nothing thus far has scared you off, take a peek at some blatantly disingenuous advertising after the jump, or keep reading for further analysis of Hola and some recommendations for decent alternative providers.
Speed and Performance
You'd normally see two images depicting speed test results stacked one above the other, right below this paragraph. Well, it felt a bit silly to throw speed test results for my ISP (seeing as how those tests bear no relevance to Hola's speed) in this review, but I average roughly 30-34 Mbps download speed against UK servers and in the 10-15 Mbps downstream when tested against US New York test servers on a 30 Mbps baseline, on average.
Using Hola brought forth no noticeable differences when either informally browsing or streaming, or when running tests, but that's not the most disconcerting issue. It's altogether disheartening to see results always returned with the testing location, and not the server I should be connected to according to my selection in the Hola extension.
ProPrivacy.com SpeedTest (average)
Compare Hola's DNS leak protection to the dams and dykes keeping Holland from flooding with me (seen being pole-jumped above), for a moment. Good, now imagine a bizarro-world with the Netherlands underwater, meaning the dams either broke under the pressure from rising water levels and were swept away - or were somehow never there - and that's the level of anonymity Hola gives you. Zilch.
Feel free to check ipleak.net for most DNS leaks, and the WebRTC Bug. Test-ipv6.com will show you wide open IPv6 leaks, and doileak.net is a bit of both tests, should a bout of privacy-masochism hit you. Jokes aside, it's always good practice to check for leaks from time to time to make sure you aren't caught unaware while believing yourself to be under a VPNs' protection.
Hola is entirely free, but how? By using your device - once the software's installed - as an endpoint in a connection chain, a function normally taken care of by your VPN provider. If you choose to opt out, you may purchase a premium Luminati subscription, which we would strongly recommend against based on issues found in the free version. Don't be fooled by the innocuous freemium model.
While it can be used for free there is a Premium subscription plan that claims not to use you as a peer on the network (although there's a fair amount of evidence to believe it still does, and certainly did in the past). Then there's the dual common sense and ethical consideration of using other peoples' freely given bandwidth while allowing yourself to be profited from at very little if any, tangible benefit to you. Not to mention you'd be under risks Hola won't take on as they'd be more costly and involve setting up, securing, and running servers.
In this case, the old adage "Who would buy a cow if the milk flows freely?" readily comes to mind.
Ease of Use
Hola's website is well-designed and gives out no more than the minimum information. Links are easy to follow, and there isn't a wall of them to click through when looking for information.
If you are looking to use a VPN on mobile, they offer a VPN app for Android and iOS devices. Both the Android and iPhone VPN apps are avialble in their app stores and are very easy to use. They also offer support for computers with a VPN for Windows, Mac and Linux users. The Mac VPN client is similar to the Windows version. They do not offfer a full Linux VPN client, however, users can use it as a browser addon on firefox, chrome and Opera.
Unfortunately, Hola's supports get low marks. This mainly results from unresponsiveness. Several emails sent using an unrelated account with no mention of my affiliation to ProPrivacy went unanswered for five days, as of this writing. I can only wonder as to why Hola's design or sales teams haven't responded to my queries about the service. As there isn't a LiveChat or ticket-based support option, you'll have to make due with a pretty sparsely populated FAQ section. That, or praying someone eventually replies to your messages.
Hola's blog has some interesting insights on how revenue is derived and monetized from goods or services online, among other relevant and interesting news from the privacy industry. The problem is, the post below starts off meaning well with a solid premise, only to let you down by neglecting to fully cover the ramifications of indiscriminately allowing your bandwidth to serve as a bridge for traffic from all over the internet. It isn't AirBnB so much as inviting anyone to squat on your data stream for free (or, better yet, pay Hola for the privilege to do so. No thanks!).
Below is the latest post on Hola's Facebook, with the Netflix complaint running theme in response to the Hola Social Media Team's posting of a 'work&play balance' image every couple of days. There aren't currently any replies from Hola on Facebook, which is curious, to say the least.
A post from earlier in May summed up the mood of Hola users in recent times, which shows that plenty of people are still using the service unaware or in flippant disregard of general self-preservation online.
"I don't care if you guys are employing God himself, just fix the damn Netflix blocking."
Registration is simple for the free plan. Just enter an email address and download the relevant client or extension for your device or platform. Remember, paying for a subscription doesn't de-anonymize you in any way, you're still a peer.
The Hola Windows VPN client (Chromium)
Hola's Windows VPN is a modified version of Google Chrome, with three Hola plugins. The main one is Hola's flaming head logo on the upper-right-hand side of the page, just below the close window button. Clicking it opens up a fairly standard yet workable UI, with server selection front and center, and settings tabs in the dropdown menu accessed through the three horizontal lines in the top right. The Hola VPN app looked and felt right, but fell short in testing, as the next section will show in a bit more detail.
On a brighter note, Hola also packages a fairly decent ad-blocker (which looks like it's based on other popular ad-blockers), and a video accelerator which had no tangible effect on my streaming speeds. The history in the Hola browser was more disconcerting, though, as you can see it logs the files I opened internally on my computer, completely unrelated to my internet connection in any way. Notice the Skype call with 'apps.skype.com' on the tail end. Creepy and unnecessary logging is unsettling under any scenario. In this particular case, it's at least consistent with the cloud of suspicion surrounding Hola.
It's tough to fault Hola for being one-dimensional regarding the devices or platforms you can choose from. The only major player missing is the Opera browser. There isn't a simultaneous connection limit because, hey, more bandwidth equals profit for Hola.
On the same note, folks on a quick trip, or those who need to download a file in a pinch might weigh the pros and cons and use Hola. It may be a better option than nothing at all, if you have zero sensitive material on the device in question and no concern for privacy in the short-to-medium term.
Hola also provides a paid video CDN, if you trust Hola to host your content for some odd reason or other.
Security and Privacy
P2P filesharing is a no-brainer, as the backbone of Hola's service is based on P2P architecture. It's unclear if Hola is monetizing your data in any way, though speculation to that effect wouldn't be exactly unwarranted. However, it's plain to see that usage and connection logs are kept, even if the last sentence mentioning' aggregated' data is meant to throw you off - it's simply false. Unique IP address, times, dates, and click-trails we all leave when browsing online are exactly the reason folks like us go for VPN technology in the first place. Otherwise, why use one?
That being said, Hola is superb for unblocking while rowing around on a bloody river of your long-dead and buried privacy. There isn't any information as to what types of encryption are used (if any), but the heavy IP leaks that came up during testing would basically invalidate encryption anyway.
Any thoughtful security plan rests on the idea of a so-called weakest link, wherein a backdoor compromises the entire security plan. Well, encryption is usually among the strongest points of your VPN connection - the gate to the castle, if you will. One IP leak is like a hidden passage, and multiple leaks render any conceptions of security and privacy moot to the point of being laughable.
You'd be well within the confines of basic logic and reason to find any outright recommendation of Hola as a worthwhile VPN service with healthy skepticism. With little to no encryption, IP masking, or concern for those, and proven dishonest practices ranging from partial truths to outright non-disclosure, Hola should only be considered in the most dire streaming-junkie's hour of need. Otherwise, take a look at our Top VPN Services, or Ultimate Privacy Guide to see what constitutes a worthy VPN service.