Mullvad is a Swedish-based VPN which doesn’t just talk about protecting your privacy – it actually does something about it.
The company doesn’t demand your name, physical address, phone number, even your email address. Pay with Bitcoin or cash and you’re just about as anonymous as you can get.
The website doesn’t have any ads, either. There are no third-party analytics. The site uses only two cookies (one for login, one for language status), and if you need to ask questions about this, you can even encrypt your emails to the company with a public PGP key.
Mullvad offers multiple locations across 19 countries, from Europe through to the US and Canada, along with Israel and Singapore. P2P is allowed anywhere, and users can make up to three simultaneous connections.
The company has its own client for desktops (Windows, Linux, Mac), and is OpenVPN-compatible so it’s not difficult to get the service working on just about anything else.
Pricing couldn’t be simpler as there’s just one plan, at €5 (£4.30, $5.35, AU$7.10) a month. Mullvad offers a very short 3-hour free trial, but it’s enough to run quick performance tests, and if you decide to buy there’s also a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Figuring out a VPN’s logging policy is often a real challenge, but again, Mullvad is different, spelling out the fine detail in an excellent blog post.
The key point is that nothing is logged that can be connected to a specific account. No traffic, DNS requests, IP addresses, not even routine connection times, dates or bandwidth used.
Mullvad explains that it monitors the current number of connections to each account, to ensure no-one can use more than the three allowed. But this isn’t saved, so there’s no way to tell how many you were using five months, weeks, or even minutes ago.
If you visit the website then your IP address will be recorded in the server logs, but those are deleted after 24 hours, and as the company doesn’t send usage stats to third-parties like Google Analytics, there won’t be any trace of your actions held anywhere else.
The end result of all this is you don’t have to worry about how Mullvad handles court requests to access your usage data, because, well, there isn’t any.
Creating a Mullvad account is as easy as completing a ‘Captcha’. A fraction of a second later the website displays a number, the unique identifier for your account.
Clicking the download button gets you the Windows client. This installed within seconds, prompted us for our account number, and then we were connected. No email address required, no password or anything else.
The client has a very basic interface, with almost no thought for usability. Every other client we’ve ever seen places the list of countries right next to the Connect button, for instance, because, well, you know, it’s a blindingly obvious thing to do. Bizarrely, Mullvad’s client places them on separate tabs instead. There’s nothing next to the Connect button to indicate what the current location might be, and you have to switch tabs to change it, then switch back to get online.
Another example: the client displays ‘Time left’ – which is important when you’ve only got three hours connection time in the free trial. But guess what? This doesn’t update dynamically, so if you leave the window open it’ll say ‘3 hours’ until your actual time is up. And it only displays in round hours, not minutes. Even when we closed and reopened the window, it still only displayed ‘2 hours’.
Once you’re set up this might not matter too much, to be fair, and the client does have a few extras (a kill switch, port forwarding management, DNS leak protection, IPv6 tunnelling). But it could be a lot better with just a little more work.
In our tests*, the speeds we achieved were also a little disappointing, unfortunately. The best download speed we witnessed from a local UK server was around 20Mbps, and peak European speeds were similar (compared to our regular speeds of around 35Mbps). California connections were more like 5Mbps, and even switching to New Jersey barely got us 10Mbps – just enough for HD video streaming.
Mullvad didn’t deliver anything close to the performance we’ve seen elsewhere, but if you’re looking for truly anonymous accounts and a clear no-logging policy, we’d say take the three hour trial anyway. It’s hassle-free and you may be luckier with speeds.
*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.