About the survey
NordVPN’s annual VPN survey is an international project commissioned to help discover and understand VPN usage habits and yearly trends. The survey, first conducted in 2020, consists of several questions, such as whether the respondents know what a VPN is, if they use it, and how.
The survey also helps identify problems that arise when using VPNs, such as choosing free VPNs over paid services despite the online privacy risks these may present.
Over the years, the study has revealed fascinating insights into global VPN awareness and usage. This year’s survey ran in 18 countries, including the U.S., the UK, Canada, and Australia. The sample in each country was made nationally representative by setting quotas on age, gender, and place of residence.
What do the results show?
Overall, the results show that VPN awareness is increasing in many countries, with relatively stable usage over the years. Let’s look at the U.S. survey results to understand how Americans use VPNs to protect themselves online.
VPN usage in the U.S.
The survey shows that VPN awareness and usage are above average in the U.S., making it one of the leading countries out of the 18 participating in the study.
Two in three people (66.8%) in the U.S. know what a VPN is, with a third of Americans (33.0%) saying they use it. VPN usage has increased considerably since 2022, from just under a quarter (24.3%) to a third.
Like in most other markets, a typical VPN user in the United States is male and between 25 and 44 years old. They belong to Gen Y (the millennial generation) or Gen X (the post-boomer generation). These users are typically hired workers who feel like they have enough money and can save for the future.
Types of VPNs Americans use
The survey has uncovered some questionable VPN usage habits that may present security and privacy risks. More than two in five (44.2%) Americans who use VPNs choose free services even though they are considered less reliable.
Free VPNs don’t charge monthly or yearly fees, making them seem like an attractive option. However, these services still have to make money, so they often end up tracking and selling user data to third parties, bombarding users with ads, or employing aggressive strategies to get their free users to upgrade to a paid version.
Additionally, because free VPNs don’t make money from subscriptions, they may not be able to invest in a decent server infrastructure or the strongest types of encryption. As a result, free VPNs may pose digital privacy and security risks that users are often unaware of.
On the plus side, over half of American VPN users (51.2%) use paid VPNs, which are generally considered safer and more reliable. The survey also showed that just under one in 10 (9.7%) use corporate VPNs.
How many Americans use VPNs to stay safe and private online?
The survey asked respondents why they use a VPN, showing some interesting variations between countries.
In the U.S., over two out of five (43.0%) VPN users mainly use a VPN to protect their online privacy.
A third (33.0%) of users mainly connect to VPNs to keep their devices and online accounts secure. This data suggests that Americans generally grasp the security and privacy benefits VPNs offer.
It’s important to remember that a VPN is a cybersecurity tool designed to increase your privacy online. The survey shows that, even though VPN awareness is high in the U.S., only a portion of Americans use it to protect their privacy.
Were there generational differences?
The survey showed that Gen Z folks — the post-millennial generation that’s considered the most digitally active — appear to have the worst VPN habits in the U.S. They mostly use free VPNs, potentially exposing themselves to several privacy and security risks.
On the other hand, Gen Y in the U.S. has the best VPN usage habits. This group mostly uses paid VPNs with the intention of gaining more online privacy.
A quick overview of the global insights
The survey revealed some interesting differences between countries, genders, and age groups.
VPN awareness varies by country, with above-average awareness in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, and Brazil.
On the other hand, VPN awareness is below average in several countries, including France, Italy, Japan, and South Korea.
Looking at the survey results from this year (2023), Japan has the lowest VPN awareness and usage rate. Only 23% of Japanese respondents were aware of VPNs, with only 8% using them.
The region with the highest VPN awareness and usage in 2023 is Hong Kong, with 87.2% aware of VPNs and over half of the population (50.2%) using them.
Gen Z is the age group most likely to choose free VPNs over more reliable, paid services. This trend was evident in the U.S., Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, South Korea, Germany, and Spain.
In many countries (including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the UK), Gen Y showed better usage habits: they mostly chose paid VPN services to protect themselves online.
VPN usage differences also emerged among the same groups in different countries.
- In the UK, those aged 18 to 24, Gen Z respondents, lower income earners, and students use a VPN more often than in other markets.
- In Germany, students use a VPN more often than in other countries.
- In Hong Kong, baby boomers and business owners use a VPN more often compared to other markets.
- In Italy, those aged 25-44, women, Gen Y, and Gen X use a VPN more often than in other markets.
- In the Netherlands, 25-34, Gen Z and students use a VPN more often than these groups in other markets.
- In Singapore, the differences emerged among women, 18 to 34-year-olds, Gen Z and Y, and middle and lower-income earners. These groups use a VPN more often in Singapore than in the rest of the countries.
- In Sweden, 45 to 64-year-olds and people with lower income use VPNs more often than in other countries.
- In Taiwan, men tend to use a VPN more often than in other countries.
For more detailed insights about each country, view the full VPN usage survey report here.
Here’s why you should use a VPN
The survey shows that people in many countries understand how using a VPN can make their digital lives safer. If you don’t use it to protect yourself online yet, there are countless reasons to consider getting a subscription to a reliable VPN service. Here are some of the most interesting VPN usage examples.
The survey was commissioned by NordVPN and conducted by an external agency between August 2020 and March 2023. A total of 151,400 respondents were surveyed across 18 countries. The respondents were asked questions about VPN awareness and usage. Quotas were placed on age, gender, and place of residence to achieve a nationally representative sample among internet users.