Despite its popularity in the Americas, Hola! VPN was repeatedly shown to expose its users to danger, rather than protect their private data. Through a combination of misrepresentation, false marketing, as well as a service that purports itself to be “free,” Hola! infiltrated the computers and browsers of over 170 million people worldwide. We definitely see their software as an additional, unnecessary risk many people are unaware of.

Conversely, ZenMate is a VPN that does deliver on its title. What they have in common with Hola! is a marketing ploy to attract users through a free service – in their case, free browser extensions. Despite being a clear improvement from its competitor and their recently implemented upgrades, ZenMate’s security and privacy promises don’t always hold up.

Which one is more private and secure?

In essence, free Hola! VPN makes you pay the price in poor online protection. Technically speaking, Hola! is not a VPN but a proxy service. This means that your internet traffic is not rerouted through a private network of servers that encrypt your data but through another user’s computer. Once you get how this free service operates, everything else clears up. Both free and premium users can use other subscribers’ bandwidth, which means that someone can actually impersonate you for various reasons.

Hola!’s developers were accused of performing DDoS attacks in 2015, while a group of hackers used Hola!’s extensions to steal cryptocurrency in 2018. If this doesn’t give you enough perspective on what they do, Hola! VPN does not even claim to have a no-logs policy. In addition, they willingly collect your personal information, from IP to billing information, name and e-mail address. Reviewers are not just blasting them for the sake of doing it, they have good reasons behind their arguments.

As we’ve mentioned before, ZenMate has recently added some much-needed improvements to their security. They currently run an AES-256 encryption algorithm, they implemented a kill switch for when your connection becomes unsafe, and their browser extensions are quite handy at preventing WebRTC leaks, tracking attempts, and malware. Although their software only supports the L2TP/IPSec and IKEv2 protocols, they did release a separate version of their app that can be used with OpenVPN. Unfortunately, ZenMate also collects your data when you sign up for their services and, as stated by their policy, if they are under statutory obligation to do so, they will pass this information on to other parties.

What performance do they deliver?

ZenMate’s relatively small number of VPN servers has a bearing on the performance they deliver. With just a few hundred servers and, allegedly, over 46 million users, their main issue might actually be consistent overload. In the US, the premium server we connected to delivered a meager 10 Mbps download with 20 Mbps upload and 118-millisecond ping. Their Japan and Australia servers were even worse – so if you want to stream any content with ZenMate, you’ll be watching the buffering animation more than your movie or show.

The one area where the Zenmate vs Hola! contest tilts in favor of the latter is, in fact, speed. The security downside of a community-powered network can become an upside at the expense of other users. Although you can never talk about consistent speeds, Hola!’s giant network will deliver good performance. In the US, we got an impressive 224 Mbps dl with 254 Mbps up, the U.K. server performed slightly better, while the Australia and Indonesia servers managed a good average of around 60 Mbps dl with 5-10 Mbps up. Sure, you’ll be able to stream geo-blocked 4K content, but in our opinion, the security trade-off you make for Hola! is just not worth it.

Which is better for P2P and torrenting?

You can use Hola! for torrenting and peer-to-peer transfers, but so can other users. This means that your IP will show up as a seed to others’ copyrighted content, basically turning you into a scapegoat for copyright infringement. The fines can be quite hefty for such activities, so the increase in legal risk is yet another reason you should never use Hola! VPN.

At the other end, ZenMate’s policy was strictly against the use of torrents. Although the provision seems to have been eliminated at present, ZenMate’s developers are located in Germany, a jurisdiction which is not known for their lenient stance on copyright issues and which is also part of the Fourteen Eyes digital intelligence alliance. It would also be highly impractical to use ZenMate for file transfer, as their speeds are next-to-worst.

Live chat and customer support

Neither of the two VPNs provide their users with access to live chat support. This is a big deal with such software, as there can be a host of client-server incompatibilities that can occur in the process of using a VPN. Hola! has no support for free users whatsoever, while premium users can try to log a ticket and wait for a response if their issue cannot be solved with what’s available in the FAQ. There’s no other way to contact Hola!’s helpdesk, and waiting for a response can take a long time.

Unfortunately, ZenMate is no better from this perspective. Their ticket submission system can take upwards of a week to deliver an answer to your inquiry, which is highly impractical. We wouldn’t even call it support. The only slight advantage that ZenMate has over Hola! is that their self-help tutorials are somewhat more comprehensive. To be honest, however, this is another major deal breaker for the German group, as most premium services offer considerably better support for the same pricing.

ZenMate vs Hola: maybe neither?

Trend Micro’s audit of Hola!’s services showed that they fail to deliver an anonymous and secure gateway to the Internet, which is the purpose of a VPN in the first place. Their software exposes you to more dangers because of the way in which it’s engineered, while also taking advantage of your personal bandwidth. Under no circumstance should you use Hola! VPN to access geo-restricted content from behind a firewall. Although it might get you Netflix, if you’re in China, Russia, or any country that imposes Internet restrictions, you’ll be leading the authorities to your exact location.

We wouldn’t highly recommend either ZenMate or Hola! VPN, but if we had to choose the lesser of two evils, we’d definitely go with ZenMate. Despite its lackluster offer and marginal benefits when compared to premium VPNs with similarly priced subscriptions, ZenMate exposes you to fewer legal and security risks than Hola! does. There is some encryption and a certain amount of anonymity, although the latter can easily be challenged by legal authorities.

Recommended reads:

ZenMate review

Hola! VPN review