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Free VPN Review : WindscribePublished on
Windscribe is one of the most prominent VPN solutions. Multi-platform, it is also available in a free version that provides the user with a monthly data volume of 10 GB. Is this VPN reliable? Is it efficient enough and should it be used to protect privacy? This is what we will see in the next few lines of our review.
Main features and compatibility
Windscribe is available in several versions for the following platforms:
- Computers running Windows, MacOS, Linux
- Chromium and Firefox based browsers
- iOS and Android mobiles and tablets
- Television (Amazon FireTV, Nvidia Shield, Kodi, Android TV)
- Routers (DD-WRT, Tomato)
Windscribe announces on its official website servers in 110 cities. These servers would be distributed in 63 countries. However in its free version, Windscribe offers only about ten servers in 10 countries (France, Germany, United Kingdom, Norway, Romania, Switzerland, Netherlands, Hong Kong, United States and Canada).
In its desktop client, the provider has integrated a Kill Switch module (firewall) which, if triggered, automatically cuts the Internet connection when the VPN is disabled.
Finally, Windscribe also offers a DNS and IP filtering system called R.O.B.E.R.T, which is presented as being capable of blocking access to certain sites, advertisements and fraudulent pages on all devices associated with the user’s account. We will come back to this later in our article.
The use of Windscribe requires the creation of a free account. Two options will be proposed to you:
- The creation of an account without e-mail address (limited to 2 GB of data/month)
- The association of an e-mail address to get 10 GB of data/month
If Windscribe prompts you to enter your e-mail address it is not insignificant, we will come back to it a little later in the test. Once the account has been created, the user is immediately redirected to a management console whose, unfortunately, not all the functionalities are translated. He can, from this page, download the installers for his different devices or display various tutorials.
When installing Windscribe on each device, the user will have to associate the previously created account if he wants to activate his VPN.
The interface of Windscribe (on Windows) is the following:
User-friendly, it is presented in the form of a simple dialog box that is easy to use with a one-click activation system, the list of available servers and their status, and a button for the firewall.
Experts will find more advanced settings by going to Menu > Preferences where they can better customize their experience. The provider does not allow to adjust R.O.B.E.R.T settings from the client. In order to access these settings, it is mandatory to connect to the main management console on the site.
Is Windscribe efficient and respectful of your privacy?
Windscribe differs from other free offers by its DNS and IP filtering system: R.O.B.E.R.T. As outlined above, this feature is supposed to block access to sites or services identified as fraudulent or inappropriate.
R.O.B.E.R.T on the test bed
On its site, Windscribe displays a management space from which the user is supposed to be able to block in one click :
- malware (enabled by default)
- advertisements and trackers
- social networking sites
- pornographic sites
- online gambling and betting sites
- websites spreading fake news
- other VPNs
- cryptominer scripts
In the free version of the VPN, only malware and advertisements can be blocked. However, R.O.B.E.R.T also allows you to create your own blacklist to block sites of your choice. Windscribe Free allows manual blocking of three sites or domains. This feature has proven to be quite effective and operates like a classic DNS filter. We were able to easily block access to sites such as Youtube or Facebook on our different devices with just one click. All you have to do is enter the domain to be blocked in the “Custom Rules” section.
During our test, R.O.B.E.R.T was able to block all malicious or potentially fraudulent links that we submitted*. Keep in mind, however, that the security of browsers such as Chrome or Firefox will always be activated first to block such items. R.O.B.E.R.T will only intervene as a second curtain. The filter has also proven to be effective in blocking ads and trackers.
On a daily basis, R.O.B.E.R.T subtly improves the loading speed of the web pages you visit (let’s not forget that we are behind a VPN and that connecting to this type of service impacts the connection speed on the protected device).
*The malicious and potentially fraudulent links tested are from the specialist sites Phishbank.org and Openphish.com.
Since we are talking about speed, what is the impact of Windscribe on speed?
On our test machine, we saw no difference in speed when we connected to the server closest to our location. We were able to watch heavy videos on the usual platforms or to navigate without the slightest hindrance. However, we tested Windscribe for speed to get some figures.
In both cases, the throughput is considerably reduced and the latency increases. This means that if you download heavy files while connected to Windscribe, you will face longer than usual download times.
Ookla Speedtest without Windscribe
ookla Speedtest with Windscribe
What about P2P?
Windscribe fully supports P2P in its free version. Therefore, you can use it to protect your IP address when sharing or downloading Torrent files. We did not experience any IP address leakage during the test. However, you won’t get very far with 10 GB of data per month and will have to make do with it for one-time use.
Why is Windscribe free? How does the supplier get paid ?
Let’s now get to the heart of the matter : Windscribe’s remuneration system and the privacy of its users. How can a free product preserve a user’s anonymity when we are constantly being told “if it’s free, you’re the product”.
The first element to take into account is the price offer. Windscribe presents 4 variations of its product:
- An annual subscription of 49 dollars taken every 12 months.
- A monthly subscription of 9 dollars
- A customizable offer allowing you to choose your connection countries, the full version of R.O.B.E.R.T and unlimited data
- The free offer (2 or 10 GB/month)
This is no surprise to anyone: the free version of Windscribe is a must-have for the Pro version. But maintaining a worldwide server park has a cost. So how does such a tempting offer come about?
The free version of Windscribe is very interesting in view of the features and characteristics that we have described above, but also remember that in order to go from 2 GB to 10 GB of data, we had to give our e-mail address to the provider. This strategy allows Windscribe to send you a bunch of promotional emails to encourage you to switch to the Pro version of the product or to subscribe to different options.
Screenshot of a promotional email from Windscribe
By the way, if you try to unsubscribe from the Windscribe newsletter, the provider will switch your account back to the basic free version at 2 GB of data/month. Ouch!
According to our observations, Windscribe only uses the e-mail address for its newsletter and the password change service, in case the user forgets it. It is quite possible to subscribe to the Pro version without entering an e-mail address and pay in cryptomony to be untraceable.
For a short period of time, Windscribe has set up the Mine For Upgrades service. This service allowed anyone to upgrade from a free version of Windscribe to the Pro version of the VPN by going to a specific page on the website. The page in question contained a cryptominer that exploited the resources of the user’s machine and generated cryptography directly to Windscribe. The user could then switch to Windscribe Pro and let the script undermine cryptography for a few weeks without having to put his hand in his pocket.
Screenshot of the page : windscribe.com/miner
Windscribe also offers an affiliate program that greatly helps it in its quest for notoriety and new subscribers. This affiliate program, whose details are listed on this page, is open to everyone. Each time User A subscribes to Windscribe via the unique link provided by User B, User B gets a retrocommission paid by Windscribe. This is one of the most classic affiliate programs.
It should be noted that User B has no sensitive information about the people who subscribe to Windscribe via his link, except the number of clicks on the unique link, the number of registrations and the type of subscription subscribed. In other words, it is impossible for user B to know who user A is via this system.
Finally, the provider has set up a sharing system that allows users of the free version to obtain gigabytes of additional data by tweeting to the glory of the VPN. This policy unfortunately encourages spam on social networks, as pointed out by the That One Privacy Site, known for its neutrality.
Is Windscribe a good VPN for privacy?
In terms of the strict reliability of the service, Windscribe is doing well. During our multiple connections, our real IP address has always been hidden, even for Peer-to-Peer. Windscribe relies on highly secure servers adopting the latest standards in terms of data encryption. Please note that the software does not display any third party advertising, whatever the platform (Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, etc). However, from an ethical point of view, things get a little more complicated. Indeed, Windscribe encourages users to advertise on social networks in order to obtain additional services.
Finally, another downside: Windscribe Limited is located in Canada, a country belonging to the jurisdiction of the 14 Eyes. The 14 Eyes Agreement is a treaty signed between 14 countries. It provides for cooperation between their various services in charge of collecting digital data. There are two other much stricter treaties: the 5 Eyes and the 9 Eyes. Although Canada is not a member, this information should be taken into consideration when choosing your VPN.
For more information on the Five Eyes Agreement, we recommend this article posted on privacyinternational.org.
Our opinion on Windscribe VPN
There’s no picture. In terms of software Windscribe has all the makings of a good VPN. Fast, easy to use and generous in data, it is clearly one of the best free solutions on the market. However, as noted above, the commercial policy of the company Windscribe Limited can cool down some users. The free version of the VPN will be perfect for quickly bypassing geographical restrictions, but will be less so if you are looking for complete anonymity.
Concerning P2P, with 10 GB/month, Windscribe will rather serve as a backup solution. Note that the provider regularly proposes free promotional offers with data “packages” of up to 50 GB/month (yet another piece of information that should put the chip in your ear if you’re looking for anonymity). Finally, the DNS R.O.B.E.R.T filter is a good idea and has proven to be effective, but keep in mind that it is clearly designed to make you put your hand in your pocket and switch to the Pro version.
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