Extensive Betternet review: Offers an awful cost-efficiency

Abeerah Hashim Last updated: August 16, 2022
Disclosure
Facts checked by Abeerah Hashim

Betternet is a very popular VPN service throughout the world. We tested it to find out what the rage is all about, only to find that this is one of the worst VPNs you can find on the internet.

Betternet is a free VPN network that boasts 38 million users worldwide. If it were a country, it’d be as big as Canada in terms of population. So there is no doubt about this VPN’s popularity. But is it any good? Can those millions of people be wrong about their VPN choice? This article provides an extensive review of the Betternet VPN service.

If you’ve been around the digital world for a while, then the chances are that you know that popularity doesn’t equate to quality or reliability. For example, the Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser had more than a billion users in 2010, and it was the worse option in the market. On the other hand, it was the most popular option because most of the world’s web users lacked the expertise to try something better — which, in this case, was anything else at all.

So we asked our VPN testing team to have a go at Betternet to find out what makes it so popular — assuming that there could be any reason other than the lack of fees. This article will tell you what we found about Betternet and why you should stay away from it at all costs.

Betternet presents itself to the world and its users as a VPN service. Yet, we found that it fails regarding safety, reliability, privacy, or online anonymity. In other words, it does nothing of the things that a VPN worthy of the name is supposed to do.

We’ll elaborate on every vital issue throughout the rest of this text. We tested Betternet for safety, speeds, Netflix friendliness, background, and torrenting.

The results left us thinking that Worsenet is a better brand name for this VPN –Except we can see how it would be a wrong marketing choice.

So let us share with you what we found.

Privacy, jurisdiction, and user logs in Betternet

Privacy is a key feature we want on any VPN we can recommend. It has nothing to do with technology as with security and encryption.

Instead, user privacy involves human and corporate decisions determining how the VPN handles your data. Does it collect any information about its users? Once the data is collected, is it kept in logs? Are the records then sold to any third parties? Unfortunately, an affirmative answer to those three questions tends to be the rule among free VPNs on the internet. And it has profound (and harmful) implications for user privacy.

It turns out that Betternet logs a lot of information about its users. Where a privacy-friendly VPN should not be logging anything, Betternet keeps records of all the following pieces of information:

  • Originating IP address. It’s supposed to be deleted when your session is over.
  • ISP and physical location. The VPN identifies these things from your IP address and then shares them with third parties.
  • VPN connection timestamps.
  • Bandwidth. How much do you use at every session? They keep this information stored for three years.
  • Device-specific data: Betternet logs your device ID, OS, and hardware model. This is how the network gives you an identity since no accounts or registrations are involved with this provider.

According to Aura, Betternet’s parent company, no browsing activity can be linked to any individual user. Furthermore, the logging policy says that a user’s VPN browsing activity is not a factor in personalizing the ads that the user sees as a user — the VPN is supposedly supported by ads.

The privacy policy assures users that even if a third party (like a governmental agency) seizes a Betternet server network and breaks the encryption, no information would lead to identifying any individual user. This isn’t the worse privacy policy we’ve read in the VPN industry. However, if the server kept no logs, such assurances would be redundant. So while this is not the worse privacy policy out there, it’s certainly not one we like.

Betternet LLC Incorporated belongs to the Aura group, which owns several other VPNs such as Hotspot Shield, TouchVPN, VPN in Touch, VPN 360, and Hexatech. 

The company’s headquarters sits in California, USA. The country is well-known for citizen surveillance and is part of the Five-Eyes alliance. However, the jurisdiction’s surveillance and data retention laws are very unfriendly towards user privacy and intrusive.

Every product in the Aura VPN family has the same privacy and logging policy. So it makes sense from the corporate point of view. The additional problem is that Aura hasn’t had the best track record over the last few years.

Take Hotspot Shield. Several past controversies include this name. One alleged problem with Hotspot Shield was the injection of cookies in the user’s web browsers.

Betternet’s name remains clean regarding the allegations against other Aura-owned VPNs. But how significant is that? First, let’s not forget that the Aura VPN family is uniform across the box regarding policies, infrastructure, and technologies. So if Hotspot Shield were doing this or that in the past, it would be no surprise that every other Aura VPN was doing the same things. But Hotspot Shield stands out for reviewers and users because it has the best name recognition in the Aura world.

The past issues are history. Aura solved them, and it wrote the privacy policy from scratch again. But these blows to a company’s reputation are hard to overcome.

So isn’t there anything on Betternet that is actually privacy friendly? Surprisingly, yes. You don’t need to sign up for an account. This enables you to use the service without giving up a phone number, email address, or other personal information. While this is a saving feature of sorts, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the VPN won’t be able to pinpoint you as an individual — that’s one of the reasons why they keep logs.

The Betternet controversy

While it’s true that the controversies that have plagued other Aura VPNs have not touched Betternet, this is not to say that this VPN’s name is that clean. On the contrary, it’s had its own problems — which are probably more severe.

In 2016 an academic report showed how Betternet’s Android app was little more than a delivery system for malware and tracking libraries. But unfortunately, we don’t know what happened next because Betternet has always kept silent about this issue, never saying or doing anything about it.

Security and features in Betternet

We are willing to recognize a secure VPN if it does two things: Encrypt all the traffic going in and out of a device and spoof that same device’s IP address. Good VPNs in the market manage those two tasks successfully and usually offer a lot more in extra features. So how does Betternet compare?

Betternet’s apps and servers use AES-128 and AES-256 to encrypt user traffic. Both algorithms remain unbreakable until today, and they are the standard in the VPN industry and with the military and intelligence communities worldwide. So, encryption is a good thing about Betternet’s security features. And it’s the only good thing about it.

So maybe the VPN has traffic obfuscation, a kill switch, optional multi-hop servers, or any of those cool things that make the top-notch VPNs of the world worth their fee? No. Betternet has none of those things. Instead, it’s the most bare-bones VPN we’ve seen.

So is it at least any good at those two basic tasks? We’re afraid not.

There is a “prevent IP leaks” setting in the app. The good news is that it prevents IP leaks when turned on. The bad news is that this is supposed to be a default thing in a VPN. So a “prevent IP leaks” option is like a car with square tires “round wheels also available upon request.” And yes, your IP will leak unless you toggle the option on. Absurd.

The VPN has a Google Chrome plugin. And it’s even worse. It leaks on the WebRTC and DNS fronts, and you can’t fix the leak by tweaking settings.

There is one advanced feature, though. It’s a whitelister that allows you to split your VPN traffic. However, it doesn’t change our minds about this VPN. Having the option to make your connection more convenient and less safe is not an advantage in a network that already fails at the basic security level.

If all that’s not bad enough, security researchers are still finding malware and tracking libraries hardcoded into the app as recently as last April. Thirteen antivirus suites in the market identify Betternet as a malicious agent. So much for user protection.

The connection protocol in Betternet is a proprietary piece of software that goes by the name of Hydra. As with most features in the Aura group, this protocol is prevalent in all of the company’s VPNs. This is a murky thing that nobody knows very well. It lacks the transparency of other protocols. We know no audits, tests, or other things validate Hydra’s merits.

So Betternet’s security is far from great. It’s not even sufficient at basic standards because leak protection is optional. It has no kill switch. The security features in Betternet are at the bare minimum of the industry, and even then, they fail to deliver. And that doesn’t take into account the malware-infested Android app.

Speeds and connections in Betternet

Our first approach to Betternet made us think it was one of the fastest free VPNs around. Then we learned the truth –it throttles your connection.

We started by measuring the speeds in the VPN network, and we were surprised to find that we could retain as much as 80% of our baseline download speeds. This speed is at the level of the best paid VPNs in the market.

The impression would have been fantastic if our test had lasted only a few minutes. However, we extended it for a little more than an hour. That’s how we saw how the speeds would drop dramatically after a while. After we had been online for over sixty minutes, 80% of baseline speed turned into less than 10%.

The best explanation for this is that Betternet will slow down your speeds after a while — a practice known as “throttling.” Yes, it’s intentional. We know that because this is when the “connect faster” button starts to look attractive. If you click on it, it will give you information about premium plan upgrades. It’s the first time we’ve seen awful speeds in a VPN used as a marketing ploy. The weird thing is that, given this vendor’s popularity, it seems to work.

Let’s face it: internet speeds matter. And now that one of the prominent use cases for VPNs is geo-locked video streaming, they’re more relevant than ever before. But unfortunately, every VPN that we know to provide users with consistently high speeds is a paid service.

Video streaming with Betternet VPN

This will be a short section. There’s not a video streaming platform unblocking to talk about with Betternet VPN. However, the speeds are too slow, the IP masking is too weak, the server links are too unstable, and the server availability across countries other than the US is scant, to say the least. In other words: Betternet is a miserable failure with every feature you need to support standard resolution video streams, let alone HD.

Also, remember that Netflix and the legal video streaming industry hate VPNs wholeheartedly. They invest a lot of resources in blocking them, and they succeed primarily because only a handful of VPNs are fighting back actively. Betternet is not one of those VPNs, which is why Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the rest of the streamers already have its number.

So as far as we can tell, Betternet can’t unblock any video streaming service out there. So if this is your priority, you’ll need to choose another vendor. But even if it could clear a single website, the speeds throttling and the 500 MB daily data cap would still make this VPN a terrible choice for video streaming.

BitTorrent and P2P networks in Betternet VPN

Betternet’s FAQ states that iOS, macOS, Android, and Windows apps support torrenting. We tested this. We found all P2P traffic blocked with the VPN’s apps.

So if you are wondering if Betternet is a good VPN for torrents, the answer is short: you can’t use any torrent clients with this VPN, whatever its FAQ says. 

For argument’s sake, let’s say that P2P traffic was allowed, as the company says it is. Unfortunately, this would still be one of the worst VPNs for this task. The speeds are too slow and get slower over time, and your data usage is capped. And don’t get us started on the lack of a kill switch, which adds danger to safe torrenting on the internet.

The Betternet server network

Betternet’s server network includes the underwhelming number of ten countries. And that’s not the worst part. If you’re on the free version, you can only use servers from one country, the US.

The lack of options in the server network is acceptable for users whose only interest is in the content available for US users. But this is an academic consideration. The service won’t support you with enough speed or data to do anything interesting, even within the US.

Access to the other countries in Betternet’s network is for premium users only, at least theoretically. The premium service costs 8.11 USD monthly, about the same fee you’ll pay for a premium VPN like NordVPN or Surfshark.

Bypassing capabilities

China has Betternet blocked, and you can’t use it from that country. This is because the Great Firewall of China is too much for Betternet’s servers, and they can’t work around it.

The reason for this is the overall mediocrity prevalent in Betternet’s approach to the VPN business. The top VPNs dealing with the Chinese censorship measures can do so through extra features such as obfuscated servers. Since Betternet doesn’t offer any additional features –and it gets even the most basic features wrong — so it’s no surprise that it’s beneath the Chinese challenge.

Not working in China is not a deal-breaker for a VPN service. Most VPNs can’t deal with the Great Firewall. However, since we know of at least a handful of other VPNs that can break the Chinese restrictions at the same monthly fee as Betternet, this vendor offers an awful cost-efficiency.

Mobile apps, desktop clients, and browser add-ons

Betternet’s platform offers apps for iOS and Android mobile devices and clients for Windows and macOS computers. Unfortunately, anything more exotic than that is unavailable. So if you’re in the Linux camp and want your home router to be within the VPN or protect a gaming console, you’re out of luck.

The software allows no manual configuration, so it’s relatively rigid, and you’re stuck with it.

There is only one browser plugin for Google Chrome. Nothing for Safari, Edge, Opera, Firefox, or any other browser.

The surprising feature of the browser plugin is that it allows users to choose servers in four countries (Netherlands, Russia, Canada, and Germany).

However, this plugin is full of holes. For example, it’s prone to WebRTC leaks and DNS leaks. So your IP address will never be safe using this add-on –or this VPN, for the most part.

Apps and usability

It’s straightforward to install and use the vendor’s VPN apps. This has everything to do with how simple they are. There are no options. All you need (or can) do is to hit “Connect” once the installation finishes.

The virtual locations list is complete and useless since you can’t use any of them unless you go premium.

Among the very few options in the app are “reconnect automatically,” “unsafe WiFi hotspots,” and “Prevent IP leak.” If you’re going to use this VPN, make sure that the last option is always active because that’s the only way for this VPN to give you the little security it’s capable of.

The web browser extension is also easy to install through the Chrome Web Store –so it’s the same procedure as with any other Chrome plugin. It’s as simple and limited as the apps. However, it would be best if you didn’t try this extension because it leaks IP addresses too quickly.

Betternet’s customer support

There isn’t much customer support to talk about on the Betternet website. Mostly, it’s just a bunch of basic FAQs and troubleshooting guides — and some of them are pretty outdated anyway.

There is no live chat, ticket system, or email support. Instead, email requests for help will get an automated answer saying how sorry Betternet is because it can’t “respond personally.”

If any complication arises for you as a Betternet user, you will need to stick to your guns because the vendor has no interest in your problems or how to fix them.

Betternet’s free trial

You could think about the Betternet free VPN service as a marketing resource to recruit users for the paid VPN subscription. The apps will remind you about this by constantly popping up windows encouraging you to subscribe to the paid plan.

Beware of the Windows app, though. The subscription options are slightly different from that one. If you are not careful, you could end up signing for the seven-day “free trial, ” which will cost you 13.18 USD monthly.

Betternet’s monthly fee is more or less at the market’s average. However, given its inferior quality, it is a very expensive VPN because the value-to-price ratio is so poor. If you consider Surfshark, for example, it has the same price, but it gives you one of the top five services in the industry. If you have thirteen dollars you’re willing to spend on a VPN subscription, almost any other option will be better than Betternet.

Conclusions

After testing and using Betternet, we found it unsafe, unreliable, and bad for privacy. It’s useless to unlock video streaming websites, and while the website says you can use it with the BitTorrent P2P network, in practice, we found it blocked on every server.

The server speeds look amazing when they’re fresh. Then they get throttled, and you’ll lose most of your bandwidth after 60 minutes.

The apps and software clients are simple. But not in the elegant kind of way as, for example, Apple software is. They’re simple because they are barely capable of doing anything at all and don’t allow for any customization. And the only browser extension available leaks IP data.

Betternet may be free of charge, but it’s also a terrible VPN. It would be best if you stayed away from it because there’s very little it can do for you, and even that limited functionality is flawed.

There are many good reasons to use a VPN these days. We believe it to be an essential tool for any internet user regardless of their digital lifestyle. But whatever it is that you need from your VPN provider is beyond’s Betternet overall performance. 

So, after all, 38 million users worldwide can be wrong.