‘Although the trendy website is fun, it doesn’t hide the basic privacy concerns that come with almost every free-to-use VPN and Urban VPN is no different’
In this Urban VPN review, we’ll take a look at features, servers, and if we have any reason to believe they are different from the wide array of free VPN options currently available.
With a homepage boasting about being ‘100% fast (which doesn’t really make any sense) and 100% anonymous’ Urban VPN is clearly doing its best to sell their product to us.
I wasn’t exactly convinced but I decided to give it a shot and see exactly what they offered for their ‘100% free’ service.
Table of Contents
What is a VPN?
No longer limited to hiding your IP address and accessing geo-blocked content, VPN’s have now become a staple in personal and corporate security.
Helping you to stay safe on unsecured public WIFI by stopping any hackers from accessing your data to preventing advertisers from knowing everything about you before you’ve even visited their site.
When you use a VPN, all of your traffic is sent through an encrypted tunnel via a VPN server which can’t then be accessed, allowing you the freedom to browse the internet in relative peace.
Price and plans
Urban VPN is free. But, sharing similar issues raised in my Opera VPN review, and if we’re being honest, almost all free VPNs:
How do they make their money?
Unlike providers like ProtonVPN, which has a stellar free service but then offers an even better-paid plan, Urban VPN does not offer any alternatives.
VPNs need revenue to continue to operate and pay wages, without a paid subscription model, how they make a profit is anyone’s guess. Even some of the big players like ExpressVPN have come out and said they only make money through their subscriptions and not a single dollar from selling data for adverts.
Whether it be from personalised ads (which we’ll come to shortly) or selling browser history, they need an income source to be successful.
It makes a lot of sense to question why a service is free when it is dealing with personal data, especially when it has a questionable logging policy (which we’ll also come to later).
Privacy - is Urban VPN safe?
According to the Urban VPN ‘About Us’ page, they inform us that they are a subsidiary of ‘Urban Cyber Security’, and performing a quick Google search finds no websites, Wikipedia pages, or anything for that matter and mainly refers back to the Urban VPN page. Not having a Wikipedia page doesn’t mean a company is untrustworthy, but not having any information available at all of the parent company seems a bit dubious to say the least.
Taking a further look at how Urban VPN operates we can see that unlike a standard VPN such as Nord or Express, according to the ‘Why free?’ section on their website, they use a Peer-to-Peer Hola-like system where the traffic is routed through other users’ systems. Historically, not the safest and there are countless examples of issues arising from Peer-to-Peer like systems. Still, at least the website is trendy…
But what really constitutes safe?
Are you going to get a virus from downloading the software? According to Virus Total, there are no malicious hidden files in the download so you should be good there. Are you likely to get targeted ads based on the data Urban VPN collects and sells? More than likely.
What’s also mildly interesting is when you visit or spend any length of time on the Urban VPN website, you get ads for another VPN service, in this case, ExpressVPN. Read into that what you will.
Most VPNs, even questionable ones, provide numbered levels of encryption which will be protecting your data.
Urban VPN does no such thing.
‘With encryption’ simply isn’t good enough and although the client used seems to be OpenVPN, until Urban VPN comes out and tells us at what stage their security is it in terms of encryption, they shouldn’t even be a consideration for a provider.
Urban VPN does collect logs and their full logging policy can be found here. However, the most interesting part can be found below:
‘Web Browsing Data: We collect the URLs of visited websites as well as search queries (meaning in the event the navigation event occurred on the page of a search engine, the value of a URL’s query parameter responsible for a search term involved in the searching context). Note that, in most cases, the data detailed above is aggregated Non-Personal Data, however, sometimes Web Browsing Data contains terms that could be considered as Personal Data. This data is deleted a short period following collection.’
Without going into each section of their logging policy, the bottom line is that Urban VPN does collect sensitive information.
What’s noteworthy is that ‘Note that, in most cases, the data detailed above is aggregated Non-Personal Data, however, sometimes Web Browsing Data contains terms that could be considered as Personal Data. This data is deleted a short period following collection.’
How long is a ‘short period’? When is web browsing data considered personal data? Very vague. I don’t like vague.
81 servers isn’t a bad number for a free service but the performance leaves a lot to be desired:
Standard internet speed
Urban VPN connection (Denmark)
Urban VPN connection (Brazil)
Urban VPN connection (Canada)
Urban VPN connection (Houston / TX)
Apart from Denmark, anywhere outside of Europe proved awful. Not counting the failed connections to New Orleans and Singapore.
Is it not to be expected from a free VPN but Urban VPN does not provide any dedicated P2P servers for torrenting.
I was pleasantly surprised when the connection to the US (Houston) allowed me to stream American Netflix and the UK version to the iPlayer. For a free service, this is always a bonus but the speeds above mean it can’t be enjoyed for long. The battle streaming services have with VPN providers and proxy servers are well-documented and will continue for a long time so although it works today, it may not in the not-so-distant future.
DNS Leak test
1 out of 3 tests (DNSLeak, DNSleaktest and IPleak) confirmed a leak. Not great. Certainly not fail-safe.
Support - what is available if Urban VPN is not working?
No links to customer support pages, no live chat option, no communities or forums, no contact number to call for customer services, and although they do have a Twitter page with literally a handful of tweets to ‘customers’, it seems the Twitter page serves only to periodically advertise how ‘100% Free’ and 100% Safe’ their service is.
Urban VPN’s product must be so good that the ‘millions of users enjoying premium VPN features’ doesn’t require a single link to any customer service related pages or contact details.
I recently tried to access UrbanVPNs blog and was startled to be greeted with a privacy error due to their SSL certificate being invalid. For a VPN company dealing with ‘millions’ of people very private data, this is concerning. It, at the very least, shows a lack of attention to detail and at the worst shows that UrbanVPN is just a front.
Urban VPN can unblock streaming services. That’s about it. I can’t recommend it and strongly advise against using it. From the DNS leaks to the logging policy, even the company information just doesn’t sit right with me. It may be a case that the company is just poorly set up, needs improving in a few key areas, and will get better in the future but at this stage, it’s a definite no from me.
For a free VPN, we cant’ recommend ProtonVPN enough. It’s just as easy to set up, with better speeds and is incredibly focused on privacy and security.
Read our review here.