DotVPN is a Hong Kong-based brand which provides free and commercial proxy and VPN services.
You can sample the proxy side with free browser add-ons for Chrome, Opera and Firefox. There are more VPN-like mobile apps (‘OpenVPN tunneling’ on Android, ‘IPSec tunneling’ on iOS), but surprisingly nothing at all for the desktop. The website mentions a DotVPN Desktop which should be ‘coming soon’, although as it also says ‘available in mid-2016’ we wouldn’t take that too literally.
The website claims the service offers unlimited bandwidth, 700 servers, and integrated blocking of ads, trackers and analytics. Encryption is via a 4096-bit key and Tor integration enables accessing Tor hidden services (.onion sites) from your regular browser.
DotVPN’s Premium Plan ($4.99/£4.10/AU$6.80 per month, $2.99/£2.50/AU$4.10 equivalent when paid annually) removes the many restrictions of the free build to deliver what looks like a competitive product. You get to choose your locations, access more and faster servers, stream audio and video, and use the service with up to five devices at the same time.
DotVPN provides some basic privacy assurances on its Features page, including a ‘strict no log policy’ and its ‘own DNS servers’ to avoid DNS leaks, but as usual, there’s much more to see in the small-print.
Despite the strict no log policy, DotVPN does collect some data about your connections to the service: your IP address (retained for 24 hours), the frequency and time of use of the service, and information on “the version of software used by the user”.
One clause states: “We keep track of your use of the Services to provide the user of statistics and to optimize, improve and develop services…” What ‘use’ are they tracking? This seems unacceptably vague.
The broader details are more encouraging, stating that your data is held on Hong Kong-based servers, and not sold or shared with anyone unless the company is forced to do so by a Hong Kong court.
An odd ‘use of collected information’ clause says: “We may contact you by phone or email on quality issues or technical problems and other issues related to the Service”. By phone? Bear that in mind if you give them your number.
We also noticed that the user agreement says you’re entitled to make three simultaneous connections to the service, while the main site says you get five. Which one is accurate? We don’t know, but this shows that you can’t trust everything you read.
DotVPN is relatively easy to use in its browser form and on mobile devices, getting you connected quickly and without difficulty.
We found the service only offered a basic level of privacy. Although we were assigned a new IP address, and the company avoided DNS issues by using its own DNS servers, our real identity was available to anyone who checked via a WebRTC leak.
Performance was mostly terrible, even with local servers. Latency was anything up to 20x normal while download speeds were typically around 10% of their normal rate; ouch. Occasionally the download test struggled up to 10Mbps, but that was very much the exception, and it didn’t last for long.
We always treat our speed test results* with caution, as they’re only telling us about performance at one time, on one specific route, and your experience may be very different. But when the results are as bad as this, we doubt it, and with no other significant plus points for this service you’re probably better off looking elsewhere.
With no real desktop support DotVPN is little more than a slow browser-based proxy service, and even the mobile app may expose your identity via a WebRTC leak. Check out the free version if you’re interested, but the Premium plan isn’t worth your cash.
*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds, and then tested immediately again with the VPN turned off, to check for any difference (over several rounds of testing). We then compared these results to other VPN services we’ve reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.