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NordVPN survey reveals: Users still trust free VPNs

Every year, NordVPN conducts a global survey on VPN usage. The findings have shown that while awareness of VPNs is increasing, some users are still willing to trade their personal details for a free VPN service. Let’s dig into the study’s results to understand more about patterns in VPN usage.

NordVPN survey reveals: Users still trust free VPNs

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

About the survey

NordVPN conducts an annual survey to better understand users’ awareness of VPN usage. We initiated this study in 2020 and repeated it yearly to observe patterns in VPN-related questions. These include whether respondents are familiar with and use VPNs, the types of VPNs they use, and their reasons for using them.

Over the years, the results showed a significant shift in people’s awareness and usage of a VPN. Thousands of participants from 20 countries, including the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, have participated in this study, allowing us to understand better how people perceive and use this technology.

What’s the global perspective on free and paid VPNs?

The annual survey reveals that the number of paid VPN users worldwide is significantly growing. However, some users are still willing to risk their privacy and choose free services over paid but trustworthy VPNs. The study reveals that over 40% of Americans still use free VPN services. Meanwhile, only 29% of Canadians use free alternatives.

The number of paid VPN users in the UK grew by 15% compared to last year’s results, meaning 37% of Brits are still willing to risk their data security and choose free VPNs. Australia, on the other hand, is among a few other nations that increased their usage of free VPN services since last year. The NordVPN study revealed that 35% of Australians are still willing to exchange their security for a free service.

free and paid vpn users

“A free VPN is often a privacy illusion. Operating a vast network of servers requires hundreds or even thousands of employees and a significant amount of money. Like any other company, VPN providers must make their business profitable in order to continue operating. One of the main ways free VPNs make money is by selling your personal data to brokers. Then advertisers buy this data to learn more about user shopping habits and make their campaigns more effective. So, a free VPN most of the time has nothing to do with privacy and usually has poor security,” says Marijus Briedis, CTO at NordVPN.

The reasons behind VPN usage slowly shift

NordVPN research shows that the reasons for using a VPN are slowly changing in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. In America, for example, VPN usage for data protection and activities online decreased from 44% to 40%. However, Americans seem to care more about the safety of their devices and online accounts – the numbers have changed from 28% to 30% since last year.

The overall usage of VPNs in Canada has grown by 6% since last year, but the reasons remain nearly unchanged. Up to 42% of Canadians use VPNs to protect their data and online activity, compared to 41% last year. The number of people using VPNs to ensure the security of their devices and online accounts has increased from 28% to 30%.

Meanwhile, the research in the UK revealed that eagerness to secure devices and online accounts decreased from 38% to 35%. However, more and more Brits are willing to protect the privacy of their data and activities online – the number shifted from 36% to 38%.

Since 2022, the number of Aussies who seek to ensure the security of their devices and online accounts has decreased from 34% to 32%. However, the number of people protecting their data and activities online has increased from nearly 37% to 40%.

Though the numbers are rising, only less than half of respondents use a VPN to protect their data and devices.

Gen Z is less concerned about cybersecurity

Even though we notice exponential growth regarding VPN usage to protect privacy online, the above results reflect the perspective of older generations. Unfortunately, younger generations, like Gen Z, who are extremely online, tend to choose free VPN services over secure paid VPNs. The number of young Americans, Canadians, Brits, and Aussies who use VPNs for privacy and security is lower than for their parents’ and grandparents’ age group.

“Digital privacy and security awareness comes with maturity. People between 25 and 44 years old care the most about their digital security and have the best VPN usage habits. Sadly, younger people who are considered to be the most digitally active are also among the most exposed to cyber threats. As a matter of fact, their privacy skills are similar to baby boomers,” says Briedis.

VPN awareness is above average

The NordVPN survey shows that VPN awareness in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia is above average. Before we move on, let’s look at the results:

  • 68% of Americans know what a VPN is, 31% use one.
  • 70% of Canadians know what a VPN is, 29% use one.
  • 71% of Brits know what a VPN is, 32% use one.
  • 68% of Aussies know what a VPN is, 32% use one.
people who know and use vpns

To give a broader picture, the average VPN awareness level in all 20 countries participating in the research in 2023 was nearly 64%, while 29% used a VPN. Among the top VPN-using countries are Hong Kong (51%), Singapore (43%), and Malaysia (43%). However, the respondents in these countries are also the most enthusiastic users of free VPNs.

Why should you use a VPN?

A VPN’s primary purpose is to protect your online traffic and improve your online experience by making it more secure. It hides your browsing activities and helps you stay safe when connected to public networks. A VPN is an irreplaceable tool for remote workers, providing a private connection and allowing access to company resources anywhere in the world.

A VPN prevents your internet service provider (ISP) from logging and tracking your online activity and helps avoid bandwidth throttling for specific activities like gaming or streaming. Moreover, you may need a VPN to disguise your virtual location and securely access home content while traveling. So, being the cornerstone of cybersecurity, a VPN is also a handy tool that gives you freedom when navigating the internet.

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Research methodology

The survey was commissioned by NordVPN and conducted by an external agency between January 2023 and October 2023. A total of 54,625 respondents were surveyed across 20 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.