VPNBook is one of the “free” VPN services that has been around for a while. There’s a number of problems with free VPN services, but the main one is profitability. If you are not paying for the service, the organization has to be paying for their servers somehow. This is usually done by injecting ads into your network traffic, selling your network traffic to third parties, or both. Both of these practices are intensely negative for anyone concerned with privacy.
VPNBook claims on their website that their revenue comes entirely from donations and ads on the website. This is where things start to look like they might not be what they seem. It is not a large logical leap to say that someone who is searching for “free VPN” in Google is probably not going to donate money to a service, so that revenue stream is likely lacking, but correlating the amount of traffic that the site gets against their likely server costs starts to show an accounting picture that just doesn’t add up.
VPNBook’s Alexa ranking places it about the 29000th site on the entire web in terms of traffic.
That is an enormous number of daily users and probably a decent amount of ad revenue from Google Adsense. But, if we consider the amount of bandwidth it would take to run a VPN network capable of serving that many customers, it is 25x-50x the amount of ad revenue that they could possibly be bringing in.
VPNBook is operating servers in seven locations, with customer loads in the thousands of users. Their OpenVPN config files go to both a direct IP address and a domain that resolves to the same IP address, indicating that they are in-fact running fourteen individual servers to support their entire VPN network. This explains the speeds that don’t even support basic low resolution video or even audio streaming. They’ve cheaped out on the infrastructure to keep costs low.
But even the cost of these fourteen servers (seven PPTP and seven OpenVPN) far exceed the Google AdSense revenue that the site would bring in. They must have other revenue streams to be operating.
Then we have the question of ownership. VPNBook claims to be located in “Zurich Switzerland.” However, they operate no servers there, the site isn’t offered in any common Swiss languages, they don’t own a .ch domain, they don’t list a company name or address, and there is no identifying information for anyone who operates the site. The company, if there even is a legal company, could be located anywhere in the world.
Before Google updated AdWords and AdSense to be more private, a review site dug up some information on the advertising account that VPNBook uses, and it was registered to a “Vannet Technology” in British Columbia.
Let’s take a look at the Vannet Technology address through streetview:
It’s a non-existent address that would lie between a Dollar Tree and a Home Hardware.
That site review was old, so perhaps their address moved? I searched for registered businesses named “Vannet Technology” in British Columbia, and got a single result:
An address in Vancouver, and it’s only a partial name match. Let’s see if this looks like it on StreetView:
I suppose you could have servers in there. Let’s take a look around back:
Nope. It looks like a basic warehouse. No servers or VPN techs here.
The entire venture is questionable. The company claims to be Swiss but has no proof, not even a company name. The only business lead is years old and leads to two dead-ends in Canada. Their budget doesn’t add up and the operators of the service are anonymous and therefore have zero liability toward nor zero incentive for loyalty toward their users.