Is Opera's Free VPN Going Away?
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.
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.
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.
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 23 Apr 2018
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Is Opera's Free VPN Going Away? (Posted: 23 Apr 2018)
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