Huge corporations are now waking up to the potential offered by Virtual Private Networks. Along with the arrival of Google’s Outline VPN, Verizon have also launched their own privacy software. Somewhat unimaginatively named the Safe Wi-Fi VPN, could this tool be the accessible, trustworthy VPN everyday users have been looking for?
Let’s learn more about it and try to understand where it lies in the online security world.
What’s the story behind Verizon’s Safe Wi-Fi VPN?
Safe Wi-Fi VPN has actually been around for over a few months now. Verizon launched their privacy client in July 2018, as a tool specifically aimed at existing Verizon customers. Additionally, the Verizon VPN was designed purely for use with Android and iOS phones, not on desktop computers.
The aim was to keep pace with wider developments in the communication world. With more people working remotely, Verizon’s business clients started to demand tools to make remote working safer. With the danger of phishing and general data leakages rising, the communications giant saw a huge opening, tasking its labs came up with a lightweight VPN targeted at professionals and mobile users.
The VPN isn’t free, though. Verizon’s initial price point was $3.99 per month – which is around the cheaper end of the scale for high-quality VPNs. However, the launch wasn’t exactly hassle free. Almost immediately tech commentators noticed holes in Verizon’s privacy policies for the Safe Wi-Fi VPN.
That’s apparently been revised, but it wasn’t a good start for a mass market VPN. However, it’s probably not that surprising to find a massive corporation like Verizon struggling to understand the needs of individuals in an age of mass surveillance and cyber-crime.
After all, Verizon was unmasked as routinely collected user data on behalf of the NSA. So their VPN has a lot of work to do before security-conscious users will give it the benefit of the doubt.
What are the features of the Verizon Safe Wi-Fi VPN?
Still, there definitely is an opening for a business friendly VPN which has the features remote workers need. And if it can connect with Verizon’s other networking and telecommunications solutions, that would be a huge bonus (at least for Verizon clients). So don’t write off this VPN just yet.
Actually, the service has some interesting and very useful features that could work in its favor. Here are a few key features that are worth thinking about:
- Offers protection for as many as 10 devices on a single package, which is pretty good for a mobile VPN. This would be enough for most small businesses such as realtors, where staff are often away from the office and may rely on public wi-fi connections.
- Verizon offer a 30 day try before you buy period, which is welcome. That way, you can see for yourself whether the Safe Wi-Fi VPN offers the speed, reliability and convenience you need. The Verizon website states that it effectively blocks tracking cookies and ads (see below).
- Safe Wi-Fi VPN is available for most Verizon Wireless customers, including Above Unlimited, Beyond Unlimited, Go Unlimited, and the Verizon Plan. It’s not available for non-nationwide accounts or prepaid accounts though, so many customers will be excluded.
- Works on any phones with Android 4.4.1 or newer, and iOS 10 and above.
- Subscriptions to the VPN can be started easily using the My Verizon app, via desktops or smartphones, and the app itself can be downloaded from Google Play and the iTunes Store
- Uses 128-bit AES encryption to create its VPN tunnels.
- Verizon do not offer specific details about how many servers they use. They state that their VPN servers are managed by McAfee and are located both in and outside the United States.
That’s a pretty long list of features. But basically, Safe Wi-Fi is a VPN designed mainly for mobile users on unsecured public wi-fi networks, and caters for multiple devices.
As for blocking tracking ads and the cookies that power them, the picture is much less clear. If the ad blocking was solid, that would be a major plus point for this Verizon VPN, but recent events cast doubt on that.
In early October 2018, Verizon removed the ability to block tracking ads from the VPN. The company didn’t offer much explanation for this move, but it seems like they were pressured into removing the ad blocker by app marketplaces who rely on the ads to sell their products. Like the privacy fiasco when Safe Wi-Fi VPN launched, ad blocking has turned into a bit of an embarrassment for Verizon.
Pros and cons of Verizon’s VPN offering
Despite the problems we’ve talked about, the list of features above would place Safe Wi-Fi VPN in the middle of the pack for VPNs. And, given that there are relatively few specialist smartphone VPNs, it could have found a niche. But given the complications surrounding this VPN, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons before buying a package.
- Convenient for Verizon customers to install and purchase via the Verizon smartphone app.
- The 30 day free trial provides a good opportunity to assess the VPN.
- For $3.99 a month, protecting 10 devices would be a good deal.
- Few VPNs specialize so closely on catering for remote workers, and Verizon have decades of expertise in helping business customers, so there should be high-quality support.
- In theory, 128 bit AES encryption will do just fine, hiding your IP address and making your data impossible to decrypt.
- Blocking tracking ads was initially a key part of the VPN, but seems to have been removed.
- Verizon are very fuzzy regarding key details about their VPN. Users will struggle to find details about server location and the number of servers, as well as the precise nature of the encryption used.
- Some users have reported random disconnects while using the VPN, leading to a loss of protection throughout the working day. This makes the VPN much less secure for long periods of remote working.
- Not all Verizon customers are able to use the Safe Wi-Fi VPN app. Many customers will feel like second class customers if they happen to be on the wrong wireless plan.
- Many web users will feel uncomfortable with the idea of an Internet Service Provider supplying their VPN. ISPs are known to collect and sell personal data, and Verizon have been guilty of secret ad targeting in the past. Given the privacy concerns we’ve talked about, this may give buyers pause for thought.
Who is this Verizon VPN aimed at?
As we’ve seen, Verizon’s attempt to enter the world of VPNs hasn’t gone well so far. Naturally, this raises the question of who they were thinking would use their privacy tools?
As the name suggests, Safe Wi-Fi VPN was pitched at people using unsafe wi-fi networks, not at home users. And it seems to target people who spend a lot of time working in public places. At least 3.9 million US staff work from home every day, excluding freelancers and students. So it’s a big market.
The problem is that many people in that demographic are tech savvy and know about VPNs, online ads and ISP tracking. Given the flaws we’ve seen in this review, it’s unlikely that many new customers will flock to Verizon’s VPN any time soon. Instead, there are plenty of high-quality mobile VPNs around which can do the job more securely