When it comes to speed, my limited experience with Google VPN has been that it’s just above average, on par with those of NordVPN and Mullvad but generally behind Surfshark’s.
All of that is to say, I do not recommend VPN by Google One. If your VPN needs are minimal, you’ll probably be fine, but most people will be better served by using a dedicated VPN from one of the providers recommended above.
In the past we have recommended NordVPN, but more recent experiences of both WIRED staffers and readers who’ve emailed me have revealed serious lapses in NordVPN’s customer service and VPN apps. Based on these experiences, we’ve dropped our recommendation.
We also used to recommend ExpressVPN, but we no longer do because it has a new parent company and we haven’t been able to verify anything about it.
There are literally hundreds of VPNs out there, but most of them are not worth your money. If all you want to do is circumvent some Netflix geographic restriction, then just about any of them will work (we still suggest sticking with our recommended options, but if you can’t be stopped, then carry on). For anything more serious, like actually protecting your privacy and data, learn to use Tor. Yes, it’s a little technical, but trust me, it’s worth learning how to do if your life, family, job, etc, are at stake.
How We Picked
VPN providers like to claim they keep no logs, which means they know nothing about what you do using their services. There are a variety of reasons to be skeptical about this claim, namely because they have to have a user ID of some kind tied to a payment method, which means the potential exists to link your credit card number (and thus your identity) to your browsing activity.
For that reason, I mainly limited my testing to providers that have been subpoenaed for user data in the US or Europe and failed to produce the logs, or have at least undergone a third-party security audit. While these criteria can’t guarantee the providers aren’t saving log data, this method of selection gives us a starting point for filtering through the hundreds of VPN providers. Unfortunately, other factors also come into play. VPNs that once made our list—like ExpressVPN—are sometimes sold to less reputable companies.
Using these criteria, I narrowed the field to the most popular, reputable VPN providers and began testing them over a variety of networks (4G, cable, FiOS, and plenty of painfully slow coffee shop networks) over the years. I tested network speed and ease of use (how you connect), and I also considered available payment methods, how often connections dropped, and any slowdowns I encountered.
Why You Might Not Need a VPN
It’s important to understand not just what a VPN can do, but also what it can’t do. As noted above, VPNs act like a protective tunnel. A VPN shields you from people trying to snoop on your traffic while it’s in transit between your computer and the website you’re browsing or the service you’re using.
Public networks that anyone can join—even if they have to use a password to connect—are easy hunting grounds for attackers who want to see your network data. If your data is being sent unencrypted—like if the website you’re connecting to doesn’t use the secure HTTPS method—the amount of information an attacker can gather from you can be disastrous. Web browsers used to show a green lock icon at the top of your screen next to the web address, but that’s going away. Instead browsers will warn you when a page isn’t secure. These days, most websites connect using HTTPS, so you’re probably fine most of the time, but on school, library, and small business websites that may not always be the case. Unless you’re using a VPN, which hides all of your activity, even on unencrypted websites.