If you are getting a product and not paying for it then you are the product being sold, all ‘free’ VPN services I know of provide you with very limited speed and bandwidth, they advertise a barely usable VPN as if it was free when in reality it feels like a test VPN, their business model is to get users to upgrade to their paid for VPN, since their free one is full of restrictions it is highly likely that most people will upgrade, if nobody did they would go out of business very soon.
HotSpotShield is the most used free VPN service out there, browser independent, available for Windows and MAC, they claim to have over 10 millions of users, HotSpotShield finances its free VPN service injecting third party advertising banners on top of the browser in every single page you visit and trying to sell you an upgrade to their ‘elite’ ad-free VPN. HotSpotShield will attempt to install a toolbar and change your homepage when you install it, make sure to uncheck the boxes during installation, however you will have to agree to their terms and conditions and this means making your personal information available to a third party (advertising company).
HotSpotShield will give your computer a US IP, this will allow you to watch USA TV and listen to USA restricted music radio stations, it worked flawlessly with the most popular online TV and radio sites like Hulu, Crackle and Pandora, however Slacker Radio and Rdio.com both detected I was behind a proxy and did not allow me to play music, showing me a message saying that the service is only available in the US and Canada. If you ever pay for a VPN try to make sure they have more than one server, this way if a company blocks one of them a quick server switch solves the problem, with HotSpotShield free version there is not such luxury.
I was impressed with the VPN speed, I expected it to be overloaded since it is free, but it wasn’t, the ping is on the low side but acceptable, the New York server, measured from Europe it gave 3.5MB of available bandwidth and a 300ms ping rate, this is more than enough to stream online videos, the minimum bandwidth needed for video streaming is around 1MB.
I have been unable to see any kind of bandwidth restriction mentioned in HotSpotShield terms and conditions, what they do mention is that they can terminate your service wherever they feel like it, I would imagine that there is some kind of bandwidth limit but officially nothing is said about that on their website.
HotSpotShield will be fine for people living in countries that censor the Internet and can’t really afford to pay $5/month for a proper VPN, or for those on a weekend trip needing the occasional VPN, but I would not bother downloading this VPN service for anything else, frequent VPN users will end up paying for the service anyway, HotSpotShield banner can become quite annoying, it takes up part of the screen forcing you to scroll down and it slows down your Internet browsing waiting for the banner to load, the adverts can be stopped using the AdBlock Plus Firefox addon but even then I did not feel at ease knowing that my personal data was being sold to a third party.
The company AnchorFree, is based in California and also runs a service called ExpatShield it is exactly the same as HotSpotShield but giving you a UK IP to be able to watch the BBC online (iPlayer), instead of a US IP.