Disclaimer: The below review is my opinion, which I will try to provide as many examples for and as much evidence as possible to support. Readers can learn more about how I conduct my reviews, my methodology, etc – here. More information on review badges here.
This review’s roll was #123 (currently Unblock VPN).
Written Jun 10, 2016
Welcome back to the next in this series of reviews! Hopefully you’re all finding the information I present valuable. I’ve had a positive measured response from both the community and even one of the companies I’ve reviewed so far (indicating that they would be making changes as a result). Time will tell if this is the case, but I hope that other VPN services begin taking note, because the luck (or unluck) of the dice may choose them next! One company even emailed me asking to remove them from the review rotation because they wanted to have a review only after making some changes they’re now implementing. I declined to skip them if they were to come up on my “rolls”, however.
Signing up for the service: Signing up for service with Unblock VPN started off a little annoying. This particular service requires a full name, a country of residence, and an email address. Right off the bat from a privacy standpoint, I can’t take them seriously. Just asking for this information as a VPN company makes me raise an eyebrow. Admittedly, the company doesn’t appear to be marketing itself heavily towards the privacy crowd, but more for geo-unblockers interested in streaming. When registering, you are automatically set up with their 3 day trial. You can immediately purchase service for 1, 3, 6, or 12 months, which is fairly standard. The 3 day trial is extremely limited – having a daily connection limit of 5 sessions each limited to 5 minutes – basically enough time to see if a streaming service works and generally how fast the speeds are. As there was no advertised throttling or speed limit when using the free trial, I decided it would probably be fine to conduct tests with, even if it will take an extra day due to its limits. The design of the site itself was pretty clean, with the exception of what appeared to be clutter towards the bottom of the page. This could probably have been displayed more smartly as you’ll read about below.
Configuring the service: I went to the downloads section of the website first thing after registering. The main downloads section of the site was divided into two parts – a top section with large badges for each supported platform and a bottom section with what looked like archived posts or something unrelated. This caused some confusion as I expected to find what I was looking for under the main platform badges. When checking under the main Linux guide, not only were there no .ovpn files to be found, but neither were there instructions to create an OpenVPN tunnel – it had instructions for PPTP only. Android was the same way. To my surprise… none of them had .ovpn files or manual configuration instructions available from what appeared to be from the main downloads – and worse, the platforms that presumably would be used the most didn’t have it in their installer documentation either. Windows had PPTP, L2TP, and SSTP and Mac had PPTP and L2TP as options in the download page instructions. None of the platforms I looked at in the top of the main download section seemed to support OpenVPN – at first.
I only found what I was looking for after discovering the much less emphasized “other” guides section which appeared to be archive footers at first glance. The OpenVPN guide here had Linux command line instructions only and no Android instructions at all. This seems like a pretty big oversight. Luckily I’ve installed these enough to know what to do – but there’s a chance not everyone would.
I was finally able to download the .ovpn and ca cert files from the link in the guide mentioned above. Unfortunately there were only really US and European servers among the available servers. After setting up the connection (and consulting the only instructions they had for Linux and OpenVPN), I was technically able to establish a connection first try
, however, I could not reach anything while connected, trying a few news sites and speedtest.net. I checked over the config files to see if there was anything preventing them from working, and there was nothing obvious – protocol, port, etc looked to be the way it should. So, I contacted support, see below.
Speed & Stability tests: I was able to establish a VPN tunnel almost immediately, but despite my attempts with support (as you will see below), I was never able to connect to any sites or perform any speed tests.
Getting support: The only method available to get a hold of support on the contact page, was a web form. The form had a message at the top, reading, “Get your reply within the [sic] hours … not days ;-)”. “We’ll see”, I thought. Oddly enough, on the web form was a pull down for “priority”, where I was able to choose from low, medium, high, and urgent. I sent two requests – the first being a support ticket marked urgent to help get me connected to the service, the other marked medium containing a few misc questions about where I could find instructions for OpenVPN on Android as well questions about their policies.
I received a reply back addressing each question a few hours later, however, the answers were mostly not helpful, here they are (paraphrasing)
Q: Where can I find Android OpenVPN instructions?
A: Here is a link to the Android PPTP instructions.
Q: Why do you require a name and country during registration?
A: For “invoicing” purposes.
Q: Why do you keep connection logs, isn’t that bad for a customer’s privacy?
A: We don’t keep logs of your activity… But we do store timestamps, bandwidth, and IP addresses to enforce terms and identify accounts if action is needed.
When I replied that the PPTP instructions are not helpful as I’m only interested in OpenVPN, that a lot of other services don’t require this information and that I never asked about activity logs, I received a reply in an hour or so, telling me I could be given Android config files by email, which I then requested.
The next morning I had been sent a link that “Mike” from support sent me. It was to the Windows instructions for OpenVPN – which contained a link to an .ovpn zip that was 5 months newer than the Linux download. Not sure why there wasn’t an up-to-date zip for Linux and Android as well. At the very least he had granted me a 2 day unlimited trial to test things out and get set up. As I was not able to establish a connection given what I deemed to be a reasonable amount of effort and attempt for support through official channels, I believe I knew what I needed to, and I called it there.
Getting a refund: As I took advantage of Unblock VPN’s free trial, I did not need to request a refund.
Terms of Service and Acceptable Usage Policy are the same page, but broken out into two separate links right next to one another. Not really a concern so much as an annoyance…
“The User is the sole user of the Service provided and is responsible for its safe usage, which complies especially with the Terms and Conditions, valid legal provisions, international law, good manners and business customs.” – “The User undertakes to… prevent abuse of the Service or to refrain from using the Service himself for fraudulent or false activities or activities that are in contradiction to good manners”
Screw that, man! You can’t tell me what to do!
“The User also further undertakes to: not use the Service for excessive data transfer. The Provider reserves the right to limit the User’s transfer speed if the daily average of data transferred by the User exceeds 2 GB.”
For a service that seems to be trying to appeal to streamers and downloaders, 2 GB a day is pretty darn skimpy.
“When registering and setting up a user account on the UnblockVPN.com website, the future User is obliged to enter information required by the Provider in the registration form, the minimum being the following: first name, last name, city and country, contact e-mail address. All the registration information required by the Provider must be truthful, full and correct, which is solely the User’s responsibility.”
Any VPN service that not only requires personal information, but also requires that it be “truthful, full, and correct” isn’t worthy of anyone’s time, if privacy is a concern.
“The Provider reserves the right to verify the identity of the User via an SMS message and thus carry out the verification process of the person of the User. The User agrees with identity verification via an SMS message.”
I wasn’t asked for a phone number during sign up, but buried in Unblock VPN’s terms is this line that says they might have to verify you using SMS. One more strike against privacy.
“The Provider respects the User’s privacy and does not track the User’s activities when using the Services … Operational and localization data are not used for tracking or censoring the User’s Internet activities. Operational and localization data are saved for … the potential identifying of illegal activities which are in contradiction to these Terms and Conditions.”
You can’t in one breath say, “the data isn’t being used for tracking”, and then in the next, say, “data is saved for potential identifying of illegal activities”. A complete contradiction. Connection metadata is personal info. If you are logging it, you’re not really respecting your user’s privacy, are you?
Final thoughts: I was a little annoyed at the sign up process for Unblock VPN so blatantly ignoring the user’s privacy by requiring a name and country of residence. I was further annoyed at their terms requiring them to be truthful. Getting the files I needed to set up a connection was confusing and not straightforward as the relevant download pages were tucked away in a difficult-to-find place. Even after I was finally given a link to the “right” ones, I couldn’t get a connection to anything, and when requesting support I was only made more aware of the lack of streamlined config files and real OpenVPN support. I would not suggest using this service if you want care about using OpenVPN. Or about privacy. Or using bad manners.
|FROM THE VPN COMPARISON CHART|
|CATEGORY||VPN SERVICE||Unblock VPN|
|JURISDICTION||Based In (Country)||Czech Republic|
|Logs DNS Requests|
|Logs IP Address||Yes|
|ACTIVISM||Anonymous Payment Method||No|
|PGP Key Available||No|
|Meets PrivacyTools IO Criteria||No|
|LEAK PROTECTION||1st Party DNS Servers||No|
|IPv6 Supported / Blocked||No|
|Supports TCP Port 443|
|Supports SSL Tunnel|
|Supports SSH Tunnel|
|Other Proprietary Protocols|
|PORT BLOCKING||Auth SMTP|
|SECURITY||Weakest Data Encryption|
|Strongest Data Encryption|
|Weakest Handshake Encryption|
|Strongest Handshake Encryption|
|AVAILABILITY||# of Connections||1|
|# of Countries||7|
|# of Servers||21|
|WEBSITE||# of Persistent Cookies||0|
|# of External Trackers||0|
|# of Proprietary APIs||6|
|Server SSL Rating||C|
|SSL Cert issued to||No SSL Cert|
|PRICING||$ / Month (Annual Pricing)||4.09|
|$ / Connection / Month||4.09|
|Refund Period (Days)||3|
|ETHICS||Contradictory Logging Policies|
|Falsely Claims 100% Effective|
|Incentivizes Social Media Spam|
|Requires Ethical Copy|
|Requires Full Disclosure|
|AFFILIATES||Practice Ethical Copy|
|Give Full Disclosure|