We always want to believe free is best, and why not? “Free” means we get a service we need without doling out any Benjamins. And while free is great, is it actually any good, especially when it comes to using a VPN service to protect your privacy, boost security, and give you access to restricted/geo-blocked content. This made us a bit suspicious of Opera VPN – a free VPN built right into the browser. We took a look at what the VPN actually offers so you can decide for yourself if it offers enough protection.
First, the Promises —An Overview of the VPN Browser and its Supposed Functionality
Opera acquired the Canadian VPN service SurfEasy in 2015, and launched the free VPN feature shortly after on it developer browser. With the release of Opera 40, the VPN moved to the standard browser, and soon was available on mobile operating systems like iOS and Android as well.
The Opera free VPN makes the standard privacy and security promises any good VPN service should – location protection with several countries to choose from, IP masking, access to geo-restricted websites, ad blocking, and general browser security while maintaining high performance and speed. But then they take it a step further, offering unlimited data which is virtually unheard of for any free VPN service. Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is.
Next, the Lie — A Closer Look At How the ‘VPN’ Works
Opera is careful not to lie about the features of its VPN outright. Their press clearly states that Opera only secures traffic through their browser, excluding outside applications. But if you read carefully, Opera is liberal with terminology, sometimes calling their feature a VPN, but interchanging the phrase ‘secure proxy.’
Here is how Opera’s ‘secure proxy’ works. Once the VPN is enabled in Opera’s settings, it connects to SurfEasy’s API to obtain proxy IP addresses. The browser then sends requests to the proxy with proxy authorization headers when sites are loaded in the browser. These requests include Device_ID and Device password. Information can be grabbed and used for tracking, and as the name suggests, compromise the location of your device. In short, while the connection between Opera’s browser and SurfEasy is secure, your privacy becomes vulnerable every time you visit a new website. It is not a bad idea to trust Opera’s proxy over a lesser known proxy service. But use it at your own risk. Your browser is not 100% secure at all times while using this service. Additionally, popular streaming sites can now detect proxy servers, so access to geo-restricted sites varies depending on the country you live in. We do not recommend you attempt P2P sharing while using this service.
Finally, the In-Between — Why Opera’s Partnership with SurfEasy Threatens Your Privacy
Outside of actual functionality, there are two main reasons Opera’s partnership with SurfEasy is dangerous for you. While Opera is based in Norway, SurfEasy is a Canadian company. When using any VPN service, it is best to stay away from companies based in countries that have strict digital copyright laws. In Canada, that would be the “Canadian Notice and Notice Regime.” Perhaps more importantly, be aware of surveillance laws. Canada is one of the ‘Five Eyes‘.
Logs track user connection and traffic activity. The most trustworthy VPN companies keep no logs, and make this very clear to consumers. They want to let you know they respect your anonymity. SurfEasy uses convoluted language to tell you they keep some connection logs, and use Google Analytics to analyze data. This may or may not apply to the Opera ‘VPN’ but, because of the partnership, is worrisome nonetheless.
For occasional use during one activity, the casual user may choose to enable Opera’s VPN feature. But if you are looking to truly secure your web browsing activity, paying for a VPN service that always encrypts data is always the best choice. If you still wish go get a free ride, there are some free vpn plans, offered by actual VPN providers.