The Best VPNs (2020): ExpressVPN, TunnelBear, Mullvad

In my testing, speeds were good though sometimes less consistently so than with ExpressVPN. I never encountered a situation where I couldn’t get a fast connection, but sometimes I had to try different servers to get speeds I was happy with.

Mullvad VPN costs 5 euros (around $5.60) per month

How We Picked

VPN providers like to claim they keep no logs, which means they know nothing about what you do using their services. There are a variety of reasons to be skeptical about this claim, namely because they have to have a user ID of some kind tied to a payment method, which means the potential exists to link you to your data.

For that reason, I mainly limited my testing to providers that have either been subpoenaed for data in the US or Europe and failed to produce logs or have undergone a third-party security audit. While this is still no guarantee these providers aren’t saving log data, it provides a baseline to start filtering through the hundreds of VPN providers.

Using these criteria I narrowed the field to the most popular, reputable VPN providers and began testing them over a variety of networks (4G, cable, FiOS, and plenty of painfully slow coffee shop networks) over the past nine months. I tested network speed, ease of use (how you connect), and also considered available payment methods, how often connections dropped, and any slowdowns encountered.

Why You Might Not Need a VPN

It’s important to understand not just what a VPN can do but also what it can’t do. As detailed above, VPNs are like a tunnel. VPNs protect you from people trying to snoop on your traffic in transit.

Public networks make it easy for attackers to get a copy of your network data. If your data is being sent unencrypted—the website you’re connecting to doesn’t use HTTPS—the results can be disastrous. Web browsers make it easy to tell when your connection is secure: Look for a green lock icon at the top of your screen. These days most websites connect over HTTPS, so you’re probably fine. But if that green lock icon isn’t there, anyone can view whatever data you’re sending. Unless you’re using a VPN.

Adding a VPN protects even your unencrypted data from prying eyes. Be sure to check out our guide to using a VPN to make sure you have everything set up correctly.

A VPN also changes your IP address, which protects your privacy to a degree. Unfortunately, this is not airtight. A web-based API known as WebRTC can leak your IP address even from behind a VPN. If this is a concern, disable WebRTC in your browser. Mullvad has instructions on how to disable WebRTC in most browsers.

It’s debatable how much masking your IP address really helps protect your privacy in the first place. Your IP address is only one of many, many bits of data that websites collect about you. If privacy is your concern, you’re better off using web browsers (and extensions) that offer tools to protect your privacy, like Mozilla Firefox or, if you want to get serious about privacy, the Tor browser.

To add to the confusion around VPNs, providers—even one of the providers I’ve recommended here, unfortunately—often engage in misleading marketing. Nearly every VPN service website I visited had some kind of red banner claiming I was “not protected,” even when I was using a VPN at the time. The problem is that I wasn’t using their VPN. More honest VPN providers, like Mullvad, tell you what’s actually happening: “You’re not protected by Mullvad. Kudos to Mullvad for not using fear to sell.

Either way, the important thing to remember is that using a VPN does not make you anonymous. While VPNs may not be able to do much to protect your privacy, they are an essential tool to protect your unencrypted data over insecure networks.

If you want to circumvent some kind of geographic restriction on content, browse securely over open networks, or get around an ISP-level content filter, then a VPN is a useful tool.

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