President of SurfEasy, Opera’s VPN division
It’s been over a year since SurfEasy became part of the Opera team and I’m thrilled that we are finally able to share our new family of VPNs with everyone. Our goal is to provide online privacy and freedom solutions that serve the needs of people around the world. In addition to our premium SurfEasy VPN, we’re now offering a completely free VPN service as part of the Opera browser for computers, along with a free Opera VPN for iOS and Android.
SurfEasy has always offered a transparent value exchange to our customers. Our customers pay a subscription fee and we provide completely private and easy-to-use VPN solutions. While we’ll continue to offer this paid service, we’re also now power free VPN solutions. In the past I’ve spoken out about free VPNs and questioned how free VPN providers support their business model. The reality is that a VPN service costs money to operate, and any provider has to make money to cover these costs. So how do “free” VPNs make money – or more to the point, how does Opera make money with free VPNs? Well, I’m going to tell you exactly how this works, product by product.
SurfEasy family of VPNs
- Subscription service
- Strict no-logging
- Full featured, multi device
We offer full-featured, high-quality VPNs for all your devices. For most of our products we offer a freemium trial where you are able to get 500 MB of encryption for free, and the opportunity to earn more bandwidth by helping us get the word out or engaging with the product. The free data we give away here is our marketing expense. Rather than spending tons of money on advertising we give free data as a sample. We give this away to everyone in the hopes that some people will enjoy the service enough to upgrade to one of our paid subscription services. For both the freemium trial and paid subscription plans we operate a strict no-log service. We do not store any information that would connect your identity to your online activities:
Opera VPN as part of the Opera web browser for computers:
- Free – we just want you to use the Opera browser
- Strict no logging
- Limited to use inside the Opera browser
Opera is in the business of browsers. We have been doing this for over 20 years (and we like to think we’re pretty good at it). Opera generates revenue primarily through partnerships and through selling ad space. This is pretty much how all web browsers make money. The addition of the VPN to the Opera desktop browser is a way for Opera to differentiate its browser and expand the appeal to more people. Just like SurfEasy, the Opera Browser VPN is strictly no-log.
Opera VPN for mobile
- Free to use
- Anonymous market intelligence
- Maybe advertising later.
The new Opera VPN for iOS and Android are completely free solutions that offer many of the features of the SurfEasy VPN application: data encryption, online freedom, five geographic server regions, online anonymity, ease of use, and so on. Opera makes money here in two ways. The easy one to explain is advertising which is present in the Android version of Opera VPN. While there are no ads today, advertisements will likely be introduced in the application in the future. This is just the same as playing a free game that has ads – advertisers pay Opera based on the users’ engagement with their ads.
The other way Opera makes money is by collecting anonymous data about how people use their mobile device. This information is made available to third parties who are interested in better understanding the mobile ecosystem and how it’s evolving. It’s important to understand that this is not data about what you do with your phone, but rather this is data about how a large group of people use their phones. It’s very much like taking part in a survey – there is very little value in your personal answers since your answers may not be representative of the larger population. But if you ask 100,000 people, then you start to get answers that are statistically significant. We do not store or distribute any data that could be used to determine your personal online activities.
We recognize that this service may not be right for everyone – which is why we continue to offer SurfEasy VPN as a premium no-log subscription service. However, we believe that there’s a large number of people that would prefer a free VPN and are comfortable with the value exchange we’re offering. We also believe it’s important to be transparent about the various options, so you can make the choice that best meets your needs.
If SurfEasy powers all of these, how do you ensure that no-log data is not accidentally logged?
We built an entirely new VPN network to support the Opera VPN for iOS and Android products. While they leverage technology we built for SurfEasy, they are on a completely separate network and never runs traffic for customers who are on no-log services.
How do you ensure there is no personal information in the data you collect for the Opera VPN for iOS and Android?
First, we do not ask for any personal information like your name or email address.
Second, we create a random Device ID that is used to correlate data but is not linked to any personal identifiable information. This is a random unique ID, and is not associated with the ID from the iOS device.
Third, we use an automated solution to inspect data for any PII (Personally Identifiable Information) that might be sent unencrypted by an application or website. If we find it, we remove it.
As an aside, we were absolutely shocked at how many applications and websites send personal data like email, passwords and even credit card numbers unencrypted. This is a major security issue and reinforces the need to use a VPN. We plan to publish information on this later in the year.
But there’s this other VPN company offering completely free VPN without ads or any data logging!
I would apply a healthy level of skepticism to any VPN provider that claims this. VPNs have a different cost structure than most other software. While it’s possible to build a game and just launch it for free, just for fun – if you’re not updating the app then the only real cost is what it took to build the app. However, with a VPN all of the data that is encrypted by the VPN must be sent through a managed network. That network costs real money to operate – you have to pay for the servers themselves and the bandwidth that goes across them. If someone is claiming they are providing a completely free VPN then they are telling you that they are willing to lose a lot of money every day that they offer that service. This seems unlikely to me.
To learn more about Opera VPN for iPhone and iPad, visit:http://www.opera.com/blogs/news/2016/05/vpn-app-for-ios-free-surfeasy/
To learn more about Opera VPN for Android, visit: http://www.opera.com/blogs/news/2016/08/opera-vpn-unlimited-no-subscription-free-vpn-for-android/