Is Opera's Free VPN Going Away?

Category: Browsers , Privacy

Back in February, I wrote about the latest release of the Opera web browser, and some thought I was a bit too harsh. Among the many comments on my February article, “Earth to Opera... The Browser War is Over (and you lost),” there were fourteen references to Opera’s built-in “free VPN.” I wasn’t sure if readers were more excited about the VPN or about getting one for free. Now it looks like we’re about to find out for sure...

Olaf is Retiring (and taking away your free VPN service)

Olaf, the mascot of Opera's free VPN service, has sung his swan song. Opera will shutter the Android and iOS versions of its free VPN services on April 30, 2018. The users who currently subscribe to Opera Gold level VPN service will get a year of SurfEasy Ultra VPN free (regularly $78). If you were on the freebie plan, enjoy it for another week. After that, you can save up to 80% off your first year’s subscription to SurfEasy Total (regularly $48).

SurfEasy is the VPN company that Opera bought in 2015, acquiring the tech that is still powering the VPN of the desktop Opera browser. But SurfEasy, and its assets were sold to Symantec over a year ago.

Confused? The bottom line is, the desktop version of Opera will still include “free VPN,” while mobile users - the bulk of Opera’s customer base - will be referred to SurfEasy for all their VPN needs. No doubt, some will go to other VPN service providers for paid or free service. It will be interesting to see how many opt for “paid” over “free.”

This move was likely written into the contract for Symantec’s purchase of SurfEasy. Symantec surely had designs on the red-hot mobile market, and having Opera’s free mobile VPN clients running loose would have been awkward.

Is Opera's free VPN defunct?

Keeping the desktop free VPN seems to be a matter of principle for the Opera folks. They are staunch privacy advocates. Opera was the first browser to offer a built-in VPN client; it still is the only one so equipped. There's no guarantee that Opera will continue to offer the free VPN feature in its desktop browser, since doing so requires significant resources. That may depend on the company's financial health moving forward, and the terms of their agreement with Symantec.

But it does bring up a question... Could there be a good reason why Microsoft, Google, Apple, Mozilla, and scores of obscure browser developers have not followed Opera’s lead? Why, yes, there are several good reasons.

First, a VPN can slow data throughput significantly because a packet of data must pass through a VPN server on its way to its destination. Each such “hop” on a packet’s route adds a few milliseconds to total travel time. It’s not just one more hop for the VPN server, either; compared to the simplest Point A to Point B route, the route taken from Point A to a VPN server to Point B may involve a dozen extra hops, or a hundred.

Second, a VPN client module is one more piece of complex computer code that must be maintained and developed along with the rest of a browser. That costs money and time.

Confused about VPNs? See my related article Will a VPN Make You Safer Online? to learn more about what a VPN is, and why you might (or might not) want to use one.

Third, the bigger a browser becomes, the more “attack surface” it presents to hackers, offering them at least potential weaknesses to exploit. Also, the browser consumes more RAM, takes longer to load into RAM from disk, and so on. Browser bloat is certainly not one of agile Opera’s problems, but it could explain why the bigger, better known browsers lack VPN clients.

Fourth, traffic on the VPN server to which you connect can be horrendous, especially on free servers. To the time lost while connected to an overburdened, sluggish server one must also add the time spent hunting for a less crowded server; the latter time loss often outweighs the former by several times. All in all, it makes for a less than optimal Web surfing experience.

Who Really Need a VPN, Anyway?

The benefits of using a VPN for ordinary Internet applications are rather dubious, in my opinion. Any financial or shopping site worth its salt is going to offer an encrypted (https) connection, securing the privacy of your communications adequately without a VPN. Email is encrypted by either the TLS protocol in the case of desktop email clients, or https in the case of webmail (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, et al).

Typically the reasons offered for using a VPN are: (1) trying to hide some nefarious or illegal activity, (2) cloaking your IP address to prevent the remote server from identifying your approximate geo-location, and (3) denying your Internet Service Provider the knowledge of what sites you're visiting to foil its attempt to monetize that data.

I'd guess that 99.99% of AskBob readers have no interest in (1) or (2) above, and (3) just doesn’t seem worth all the hassles described above, never mind the cost for a VPN subscription.

Your mileage may vary, of course; tell me all about it in the comments below.

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Most recent comments on "Is Opera's Free VPN Going Away?"

(See all 25 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

23 Apr 2018

Much like not using my real name for many postings on the net. I like a VPN because it is one more thing that at least slows down, if not stops, other people's nefarious activities. I do nothing illegal or immoral (or fattening) on the net, but many others do, including trying hard to discover MY personal details, MY Bank records, MY credit cards and more. If a VPN puts a large concrete block in their way, I'm all for it!
You may trust the security offered by your ISP and others, but in light of all the millions of personal records known to have already been illegally acquired. I want all the protection I can get.

Posted by:

Joe M
23 Apr 2018

Been following you for years, Bob. No longer. I don't need a supposed techie telling me that valuing my privacy isn't worth it.

You would have been better off providing factual data, rather than your misguided opinions.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2018

Fifth, since security and privacy-oriented Norwegian company Opera sold it's name and browser to Chinese conglomerate Qihoo 360 two years ago, it should be expected that it's business principles would change to be consistent with the totalitarian internet control required by the Chinese government. If Opera desktop VPN should continue, know that it will likely be run through a gov monitoring station.

Posted by:

Bob K
23 Apr 2018

I use TOR.

I don't do anything illegal, immoral, or such. But when I visit a web site looking for some information, and get endless advertisements from them, I need a little protection.

Example, I am looking for a newer cell phone. One visit to a company (that has my email address due to prior purchases) has produced many emails pointing out they have just what I'm looking for.

TOR is difficult to use at times. Many sites sense visits thru them and throw up all kinds of roadblocks, or just plain deny access. Is this true of other VPNs?

Posted by:

23 Apr 2018

ALL offers VPN with membership but Win10 will not install it for they say safety reasons.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2018

My Deloyd:

Bob never claimed that there was anything wrong with choice. He did say that is was one of the losers in the browser wars. The Beta video tape system was significantly better than the VHS system but it lost the VCR war.

Your use of a VPN would have had no effect on the Equifax issue.

Posted by:

peter eugene sinclair
23 Apr 2018

Thank you i was looking at VPN's but the speed loss was terrible i will give up on them now and not bother with one now.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2018

We have lived in different countries in Europe (Germany and Spain) for approximately 17 years off and on. Their are lots of programs we can't watch unless we use a VPN. While livening in Germany we had to use a VPN to watch certain US shows. It also protects you when using a hot spot in a coffee shop.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2018

i think VPN still plays a roll. I don't want COMCAST and may others to monitor and block what website i go in order for to tell me so.
i will handle that myself even without a VPN.

Have you made an image of ur OS lately?

Posted by:

23 Apr 2018

I work at a large university. I use a free VPN when I am on campus to test if a connection from off-campus will work.

Posted by:

Frank D
24 Apr 2018

I'm in the US, but can't watch the BBC without a VPN.

Posted by:

Danny G
24 Apr 2018

Actually you don't need a VPN to watch the BBC from another country. You can use a service like Getflix that changes your DNS.

Posted by:

Stoneage Man
24 Apr 2018

When I go to some countries or areas where there are known to be individuals that are trying to get my info, I prefer to use a VPN. It gives me the feeling that my communications will be more secure. Speed has not been a problem for me. Another reason is that I live in the USA but need to do banking (legally) in another country, those banks in the other country do not want to deal with persons located in the USA. The US government wants those banks to enforce US law. It is really those banks don't want to set-up a compliance department because of the cost and who could blame them.

Posted by:

24 Apr 2018

After MS tried to force Win10 on people, I set my update download so that I picked what to install. Then I decided that maybe you were right to just let MS do it all. Now we have the KB4093118 fiasco because I **let** MS present me with problems. How the heck was I supposed to know *not* to install a particular update **before** another? This KB installed nine (9) times on my computer and wanted to keep installing. I called MS and had the situation clarified in just a few minutes. Never again am I just letting MS "loose" with updates. (Uh..the original update was listed as "optional"; then it was later listed as "important." Bugs in the MS system tells me to **beware** updates from now on. I don't believe you've covered this just yet. If it says "preview" as part of the name, SKIP IT, folks--unless you're a tech's tech!

Posted by:

24 Apr 2018

The only reason I have the slightest interest in VPN is because the owner of a website related to my work banned me from her site because I dared to defend a member of our industry who was getting trashed on the site. I jumped in to say I had worked with that person and had no problem. The owner accused me of being paid to say that. I objected very clearly and politely to that (meaning no cursing), so I'm slightly curious about VPN because I lost a good work resource and I'm certainly not going to beg the owner to let me back in.

Posted by:

24 Apr 2018

Danny G: Right from the Getflix website: "Getflix uses Smart DNS and VPN technology." It *is* a VPN.

Posted by:

24 Apr 2018

Bob, maybe an article contrasting and comparing HTTPS, vpn, and tor as well as their relationship to SSL might be in order?

Posted by:

Bob Deloyd
25 Apr 2018

Mr. Bill,
I beg to differ with you on the "Equifax" breach; I use it after the breach and I feel more secure.
And also on "choice" by Bob no bringing up VPN for his readers. I can imagine most of his readers didn't know Opera had a free VPN.

Posted by:

John Quinlan
30 Jan 2019

I can't believe anybody in any way related to online security is poopooing the need for a VPN.

Any security is better than none, and for those that are mobile and use different WiFi connections a VPN even a reputable free one is a must.

Posted by:

11 Feb 2019


EDITOR'S NOTE: What the...? That's (almost) the weirdest comment I've seen, ever.

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