Hotspot Shield VPN Review
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Hotspot Shield is a popular VPN service that went through a rough patch a few years ago, being accused of unfair business practices and suffering a bug that leaked user data. Two years (and two new owners) later, Hotspot Shield has had the opportunity to recover from those dark times.We’re here today to see how well Hotspot Shield has done putting their problems behind them. Do the apps still suffer leaks? Have they implemented privacy policies that are more protective of their user’s data? Can this VPN even be trusted with your private data? Let’s find out.
Hotspot Shield VPN overviewHotspot Shield is one of the older VPN services. Launched in 2008, the service gained fame for its use by dissidents during the Arab Spring protests in the early 2010’s. Problems surfaced in 2016 when a team of academics cited Hotspot Shield in a research paper for using tracking libraries in their VPN service. One year later, in 2017, the Center for Democracy and Technology accused them of unfair and deceptive trade practices. In 2018, a researcher discovered a data leak. These two adverse events caused many sites to remove the product from their lists of recommended VPN services. The product got a fresh start in 2019 when it became part of the Pango family of products. Given all that, this was an ideal time to take another look at Hotspot Shield. Here are the positives and negatives we found during our research and testing, along with some interesting facts about Hotspot Shield and its parent companies (we’ll try to explain the whole corporate tangle later).
Hotspot Shield VPN PROs:
- Continual upgrades to their clients
- No IP address or DNS leaks detected in Windows client
- Easy to use / Geared toward non-technical users
- A suite of privacy products is included
- 45 day money-back guarantee
Hotspot Shield VPN CONs:
- Possible IP address leaks on Android app
- Definitely not the “World’s Fastest VPN”
- Their server count is misleading
- Limited payment options
- Does not work well for Netflix and streaming
- Confusing/excessive data collection policies
- Based in the United States (a bad privacy jurisdiction)
- Expensive prices
Hotspot Shield VPN interesting FACTs:
- Hotspot Shield VPN and AnchorFree and Pango and Aura (background info)
- Connect 5 devices to Hotspot Shield simultaneously
- Free version of Hotspot Shield available
Hotspot Shield VPN PROsHotspot Shield has millions of users around the world. That by itself tells you that they must have some great characteristics. Here are the pros that we discovered during our testing and research for this Hotspot Shield review.
1. Continual upgrades to the Hotspot ShieldVPN clientsWe are happy to report that Hotspot Shield VPN development is continuing. Recent improvements we noticed include the addition of a Linux client, as well as the addition of a kill switch and other features to the Android VPN client. They have also recently given you the option to use the OpenVPN protocol when you install Hotspot Shield on a router. Hotspot Shield VPN now supports Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android, iOS, the Chrome browser, some TVs and routers that support OpenVPN.
2. No IP address or DNS leaks detected in Windows clientWe ran our standard VPN leak tests against the Windows version of Hotspot Shield, and didn’t encounter any leaks. Combine this with the presence of a kill switch in the Windows client, and you should feel safe that your data won’t leak onto the internet. Here is a basic leak test with Windows (no leaks). It’s good to see the Windows VPN client did not have any leaks in our tests.
3. Easy to use / Geared toward non-technical usersThe Hotpoint Shield VPN apps that I tested for this review were easy to use. The interface is dominated by a big connect button as shown below. Hit the button and the client will log you into the Hotspot Shield VPN. You can select a specific location, or let Hotspot Shield take care of it for you. While they are gradually adding more advanced capabilities such as Smart VPN (Hotspot Shield’s version of split tunneling), overall this service feels geared to beginners and people who just want something that works without a lot of tinkering.
4. A suite of privacy products is includedIn 2019, Hotspot Shield was acquired by a company called Pango. Pango bundles Hotspot Shield with several other products to create a privacy suite. This includes a password manager and identity theft protection. There are certainly advantages to bundling products. We see this trend with other services as well, such as with NordVPN and NordPass. For example, 1Password is a quality password manager, no doubt about it. But after our extensive testing of password managers, we found that other password managers were better.
5. 45 day money-back guaranteeThis is one place where Hotspot Shield stands out. The top-rated VPN services usually offer a 30 day money-back guarantee. Many services offer even less. Hotspot Shield stands out by giving you a 45 day money-back guarantee. If you want a VPN that gives you plenty of time to thoroughly test it, Hotspot Shield should be high on your list of VPNs to investigate. The only other VPN I’ve seen offering a 45 day money-back guarantee is CyberGhost VPN.
Hotspot Shield VPN CONsWhile Hotspot Shield is very popular and definitely has its good points, it also has a number of issues that you need to be aware of. In no particular order, they are:
1. Possible IP address leaks on Android appIn our tests, the Hotspot Shield Android client worked most of the time. With that being said, we did run into one case where Hotspot said the phone was secured with an active VPN connection, but our leak testing returned our real IP address. We weren’t able to replicate the result, but other reviewers have also reported leaks in the Android client. Leaks in mobile devices are in some ways even more perilous than leaks in the desktop versions of VPNs. That’s because your mobile devices are out in the big, beautiful (and full of hackers) world where it will likely be exposed to far more threats than your home computer is likely to see. If you need an Android VPN client that will not leak, check out this list of the Best Android VPNs.
2. Definitely not the “World’s Fastest VPN”The Hotspot Shield VPN web site frequently and proudly points out that they were named the “World’s Fastest VPN” in Ookla’s 2019 Speedtest Awards. But we never just accept marketing claims at face value without doing our own testing. I ran speed tests for this Hotspot Shield review on a 500 Mbps connection from my location in the United States. Overall, the speed tests were not impressive. First, I tested a Hotspot Shield server somewhat close to my physical location, in Seattle: 76 Mbps. This isn’t horribly slow, but it’s also not fast. Next, I tested a Hotspot Shield server in Los Angeles. Speeds were slightly better than before, but still not great at about 82 Mbps. The last US server I tested was in New York. The speeds were about the same as the other locations: 80 Mbps. Next, I tested servers in Canada. The speeds were even slower than with Hotspot Shield servers in the US. Here was a speed test with a Hotspot Shield server in Toronto: With these speeds, Hotspot Shield is certainly not the best VPN for Canada. Lastly, I ran a long-distance speed test with a server in the United Kingdom: 45 Mbps. Overall, these are not very good speed test results. Hotspot Shield is not the fastest VPN by a long shot. If you want a VPN with the best speeds, I’d recommend checking out NordVPN with the WireGuard protocol.
3. Their server count is misleadingThe Hotspot Shield website claims over 3,200 VPN servers located in over 80 countries. Both the number of servers and the number of countries are above average for the industry. However, there’s a little snag. Many of these locations are virtual servers. These are servers that are physically located in one place, but configured to function as if they are located somewhere else. You can see this blog post announcing the addition of more virtual server locations. Virtual locations are not necessarily a deal breaker, and we also see them used with some other VPNs. However, it’s good to see transparency with virtual locations.
4. Limited payment optionsWhile many VPN services accept a range of payment options, Hotspot Shield accepts only credit or debit cards or PayPal. All three of these options are convenient and secure, they aren’t particularly private. The ability to pay for your subscription with cryptocurrencies, gift cards, and other alternative payment methods could boost your privacy. If you want a VPN with more payment options, including cyprocurrencies, you could check out Surfshark or NordVPN.
5. Does not work well with Netflix and other streaming servicesMany VPNs claim to work with Netflix. In our tests, however, we’ve found that only a handful consistently deliver Netflix streaming without getting blocked. With Hotspot Shield, we were unable to log into the United States Netflix library. This is definitely a drawback for those who want the best VPN for Netflix. Getting (or blocking) access to Netflix and other streaming services is an ongoing war between the streaming services that want to block you and the VPNs that want to unblock the content so you can view it wherever you are in the world. Many VPNs are devoting significant resources to this endeavor, simply because more people are turning to VPNs to unblock their favorite content. Check out the best VPNs for streaming here.
- Usage information. We collect information about how you interact with our services, how much bandwidth you use, and when and for how long you use our services.
- Device information. We collect information from and about the device you use to access our services, including about the browsers and Pango apps you use to access our services. For example, we may collect device identifiers, browser types, device types and settings, operating system versions, mobile, wireless, and other network information (such as internet service provider name, carrier name and signal strength), and application version numbers.
- Diagnostic information. We may collect information about the nature of the requests that you make to our servers (such as what is being requested, information about the device and app used to make the request, timestamps, and referring URLs). However, our VPN products do not log any information that associates your identity with your VPN browsing activity. We do not maintain any records that show what you were browsing or accessing through a VPN connection. See the VPN Products Privacy Notice for more information.
- Location information. Unless otherwise expressly stated, we do not collect your location information based on your device’s GPS or other device sensor data. However, we may collect your approximate location by calculating an imprecise latitude and longitude based on your IP address to provide you with better service (e.g. to connect you to the nearest and fastest VPN server).
7. Based in the United States (a bad privacy jurisdiction)The United States is not a good location for a VPN or any other business involving privacy. The country is at the heart of numerous international surveillance organizations. Most of them were created for the Cold War era, they continue to function, and continue to spy on anyone and everyone they can. The US government has the power to surveil people using the telecommunications networks of the United States. It also has the power to force private companies to do the dirty work for the government. This includes forcing a company to spy on you, potentially violating their own privacy policies and terms of service. This includes the ability to force the company to hide from you the fact that they are now spying on you. With espionage like this, it is easy to see why leading VPN services like ExpressVPN and NordVPN are not based in the USA.
8. Hotspot Shield VPN is ExpensiveHotspot Shield pricing is nothing if not simple. The Premium version (the version we review here) is priced at $7.99 per month, billed annually. That works out to $95.88 per year. This isn’t too bad, and is on par with the one-year pricing of services like ExpressVPN. However, unlike most VPN services, HotSpot Shield does not offer multi-year discounts. Somewhat mitigating the relatively high price of Hotspot Shield is the collection of additional software bundled with it. If one or more of those products also suits your needs, the pricing of the entire suite becomes much more reasonable. As an alternative, you can also consider some of the cheapest VPN services that are under $4 per month.
Hotspot Shield VPN interesting FACTsFinally, lets look at some additional interesting facts about the Hotspot Shield VPN.
Hotspot Shield VPN and AnchorFree and Pango and Aura (background info)This is one of the more complicated corporate structures we have run across. Hotspot Shield has been providing VPN services to consumers since 2008. It was developed by a company named AnchorFree, which was based in Redwood City, California. It was one of the more popular VPN services until 2017, when the Center for Democracy and Technology accused the company of unfair and deceptive trade practices. Adding to the problems, in 2018 a security researcher discovered a bug in the Hotspot Shield client that leaked user data. In 2019, Hotspot Shield joined Pango, a new company that offers a suite of security and privacy products. Like AnchorFree, Pango is based in Redwood City, California. In July of 2021, Pango joined Aura, a digital security company. According to Hari Ravichandran, the founder and CEO of Aura, the goal of all this activity is to,
…build the best all-in-one digital protection platform for consumers. With the scale achieved through these transactions, we continue our journey to build and expand our integrated security platform. Our vision is fueled by our commitment to make digital security simple, user-friendly and accessible to everyone.
Connect 5 devices to Hotspot Shield VPN simultaneouslyHotspot Shield allows you to have 5 devices connected to the VPN simultaneously. This is about average for the industry. Unfortunately, this is an area where the industry needs to improve. Look around your home or office. How many computers, smartphones, Smart TVs, and other internet-connected devices do you see? A lot of us have more than 5 personal devices that should be protected by the VPN you use. Now add in the other people who would expect to be protected by your VPN service. It is safe to say that most households in the USA or Europe have far more than 5 devices that want to use the internet, likely all at the same time. Happily, there are a few VPN services that recognize this problem. Surfshark is one such VPN service. And their solution to “too many” devices wanting internet access at the same time. Surfshark is not only an excellent VPN service. They allow an unlimited number of simultaneous VPN connections on a single account. Another VPN offer an unlimited number of devices is IPVanish. Another solution to using an unlimited number of devices is to use a VPN router. This will count as only one device, yet it offers the benefits and encryption of the VPN to every devices that connects to your router.
Free version of Hotspot Shield availableHotspot Shield does offer a free version of the VPN, but we don’t recommend you use it. It is slow, limited to only 500 MB of data per day, and gathers even more information about what you do online than the paid version does. All in all, it is a good example of why we don’t recommend free VPNs to our clients.
Best alternatives to Hotspot Shield:Click the VPN name below to read our full review – or grab the discount for the best savings. All three of these VPNs have a 30 day money-back guarantee.
- ExpressVPN [49% discount + 3 Months Free]
- NordVPN [68% discount]