For millions of VPN users, privacy is one of the most desirable aspects of a VPN service, if not the most prized benefit of all. And given that, the amount of logs – details recorded on the user and their online activity – kept by a VPN provider is a crucial consideration. And not all VPNs are equal in this respect – far from it.
Almost all VPNs will trot out some manner of blanket ‘we keep no logs’ statement on their website, but the truth is that the various providers’ policies regarding keeping logs can vary quite widely.
The first thing you need to bear in mind is that there are two main categories of logs: connection logs, and usage logs.
Connection or metadata logs include your incoming and outgoing IP address, as well as data like connection duration, amount of data transferred, VPN servers you’ve connected to, and so on.
Usage or activity logs, on the other hand, are deemed much more important and more invasive in privacy terms, as they essentially cover all of the data beyond those basic connection logs. So we’re talking about information on the exact websites you visited online, the files you downloaded, and so forth.
The good news is that any provider worth its salt doesn’t keep usage logs. The bad news is that not only can it sometimes be difficult to find out what sort of logs a VPN provider keeps, you also need to bear in mind that you’ve only got the firm’s word that it actually sticks to any relevant policies. In other words, whatever might be written on the website, you’ll never really know what actually happens behind the scenes.
Even if a provider says it keeps no logs whatsoever, the chances are that some are stored, although it might only be the barest of connection logs.
The long and short of it is: scouting out the VPN services which provide you with the best levels of privacy and anonymity online is something of a tricky task. Which is exactly why we’ve researched the best VPNs for watertight privacy, and we’re presenting our results in this article.
Here are our top five recommendations for privacy-conscious VPNs that uphold their ‘no logs’ policy with the most unswerving veracity as far as we’re concerned.
Best all-round VPN for privacy
Number of servers: 1000+ | Server locations: 60+ | IP addresses: 40000+ | Maximum devices supported: 5
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If you’re looking for power and performance from your VPN, while still enjoying privacy at the highest levels, IPVanish is just the ticket. This service ticks all the right boxes – it offers fast performance, configurable mobile and desktop clients, tight security, and a clear and commendable ‘no logs’ policy.
The native clients are crammed with features and they’re highly configurable too, with a mode for VPN novices who aren’t keen on messing around with fancy settings. One small downside is that in our testing, we found that the Windows client can be prone to the odd network issue in certain situations – mainly when other VPNs are installed. But your mileage may well vary.
The provider doesn’t keep any logs, as mentioned, and clearly states that it doesn’t log any session data (unlike many other VPN services). The wide range of payment methods such as Bitcoin, Giropay, and more, only adds to the superb effort on the privacy front.
IPVanish doesn’t offer a free trial and prices are slightly more expensive than the norm (unless you sign up through TechRadar’s special discount, that is). You definitely pay for performance here, and choosing an annual subscription is the best value-for-money. The packages available are:
Number of servers: 1500+ | Server locations: 148 | IP addresses: 30000 | Maximum devices supported: 3
For those looking to mesh the fastest speeds with privacy, ExpressVPN is the premium choice. There are some seriously fast servers in this firm’s broad network which spans 94 countries, while on the software front, you get apps for all major platforms (and a few browser extensions too). The native clients are fairly intuitive and user-friendly, featuring both basic and advanced options to satisfy all kinds of users.
With a premium service comes a premium price, in this case. ExpressVPN is somewhat more expensive than the rest of the competition, and there is no free trial to test the provider. However, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee for reassurance, and of the three price plans on offer, the 12-month subscription (with three months extra thrown in) is the best choice in the long run. The packages available are:
Best balance of performance and price
Number of servers: 218 | Server locations: 19 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 3
AirVPN is run by ‘activists and hacktivists’ who are all for net neutrality and complete online freedom, so what you get is a provider that is very forthcoming about its service. For instance, you get the full scoop on all available servers and their current load, as well as all you need to know about AirVPN’s practices on the security and privacy fronts.
That said, one obvious weak spot here is the low number of server locations (especially in comparison to some rivals you’ll see on this page). However, this provider makes up for that by delivering a reasonably fast performance, generally speaking, though we found that in our testing, some longer-distance connections can be flaky.
Another performance plus point is that AirVPN guarantees users a minimum allocated bandwidth of 4Mbps (downloads and uploads). Although the Windows client could use some improvement, as it has a somewhat awkward interface that takes a little acclimatization.
AirVPN has five rather affordable plans, including a short-term 3-day plan that acts as a cheap trial of the service. Payment methods include a number of cryptocurrencies, which is always a privacy bonus. The 12-month plan boasts the best value-for-money. The packages available are:
Best free VPN
Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: 50 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: Unlimited
The fact that Windscribe allows you to connect an unlimited number of devices is a huge benefit, particularly for those with larger families who will all be connecting to the VPN. And it’s no slouch on the performance front, either, with our testing showing fast speeds over shorter hops, although long-distance connections weren’t so impressive.
The service offers custom apps for major platforms, except for Android – although an Android client was launched last year, it’s still listed as being potentially unstable, so many mobile users will probably want to look elsewhere, at least for the time being.
Generally speaking, the software clients are rather basic, with some low-level options and settings that will just about fulfill most needs.
Another great feature is the free plan with a hefty 10GB monthly data allowance, providing you register with your email address. As expected, the free plan restricts the number of servers available, but it’s still far more generous and usable than the freebie offerings you’ll find elsewhere.
Privacy-wise, things are crystal-clear and detailed: there is no logging of VPN usage, IPs, historical session logs, and no records of incoming or outgoing IP addresses or your individual activities. All good news.
You can even sign up without providing an email address (but your monthly limit drops to 2GB on the free plan, in that case), and the small elements the service does record – OpenVPN username, VPN server connected to, time of connection, and amount of data transferred during the session – expire and are discarded within three minutes of the session being terminated.
There are only two paid plans – the Pro plan with either monthly or annual billing, and this gives you access to the full range of servers. As ever, the annual plan offers the best overall value proposition. The packages available are:
Best VPN for beginners
Number of servers: 1000 | Server locations: 20+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
TunnelBear is as simple as a VPN service gets. An email address is all you need to start using the service, and for free at that. There are native clients (and a few browser extensions) for all major platforms that focus on simplicity, although there isn’t much you can change settings-wise.
Performance levels can be quite speedy (even with the free plan) on shorter hops, although long-distance connections can be flaky at best.
Apart from requiring only your email address to kick things off, this provider doesn’t record any information about the websites and services accessed online, as well as the session data you’ll often find logged elsewhere.
Regarding the free plan, the bad news is that the default 500MB per month limit is very restrictive – that’s only enough to test the service for a very short amount of time. That said, if you tweet about TunnelBear you get an extra 1GB of data, while an exclusive TechRadar deal lifts the monthly limit to 5GB, a far more attractive proposition.
As for commercial plans, there are only two of them: a monthly or annual subscription. The yearly plan offers the best savings, and the packages available are: