How to protect your privacy in public with ProtonVPN for free

Protect your Mac, PC, iPhone or Android phone with a VPN

Apple MacBook and coffee in a cafe with public Wi-Fi

Are you giving away too much information when you use public Wi-Fi? You might be, but there is a way to protect your privacy in public, with a VPN. ProtonVPN is a free PVN to secure Wi-Fi.

A VPN on your Mac, PC, phone or tablet makes the internet more secure and more private by encrypting the connection between you and a VPN server. The server then connects to the web and online services you need. It is especially useful when using public Wi-Fi hotspots because it means that other people using the Wi-Fi network, possibly a hacker or troublemaker, cannot see what you are doing. The hotspot operator cannot see your activities either.

This is especially useful for services you sign into, like email, online accounts at websites, banking and shopping. You don’t want someone watching.

Finding a good free VPN is not easy. However, ProtonVPN is worth considering. As with all free VPNs, there is a very limited selection of VPN servers to connect to for free, and there are two in the US, two in the Netherlands and three in Japan. You can access dozens more countries with a paid subscription of course, but let’s have a look at the free VPN.

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Sign up for ProtonVPN

The best way to get ProtonVPN is to visit the website (protonvpn.com), go to the Pricing section and click the Get Free button. There are multiple steps involved:

  1. Add your email
  2. Get a security code by email and enter it
  3. Create a username and password
  4. Download and install the app
ProtonVPN apps for Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android

There are apps for macOS, iOS, Windows and Android. If you plan to stick with a free ProtonVPN account you must choose only one, but with paid accounts you can have multiple devices. I chose the Mac app.

Sign into ProtonVPN app

Run the app and sign in using the username and password you create when signing up.

Sign into ProtonVPN on the Apple Mac

Various permissions pop-ups appear and this is so the login details can be stored in the Mac’s keychain. It only happens once and from then on you are straight into the app.

Secure W-Fi hotspots with ProtonVPN

ProtonVPN app on the Apple Mac securing the internet

Using the VPN is very easy and on the Countries tab is a long list of countries around the world that you can connect to. You can choose your own country if you just want secure the Wi-Fi at a public hotspot, but you can choose another country if you want to appear to be located there. Each country has many servers.

In the top left corner of the app is your new IP address – your real one is hidden for privacy and security. There is an option called Secure Core, which routes traffic through ProtonVPN’s network for extra security.

You can also see the server load, so if the current one comes under a high load and is slowing down you could try a different one. The upload and download activity/speed is shown, which is useful when downloading big files.

Create VPN profiles

Save favorite VPN servers in ProtonVPN for the Apple Mac

On the Profiles tab is a button to create a profile. This is basically a shortcut to a specific VPN server. You get a week of unlimited use of all servers with a new account, but after that you can only access 2 x US, 2 x Netherlands and 3 x Japan servers.

It is useful to create profiles for these in preparation for the app going free, and limited. You will then be able to connect to free servers with a mouse click instead of having to find them each time.

ProtonVPN in the menu bar

ProtonVPN menu bar widget on the Apple Mac

There is a menu bar icon that displays a Quick Connect button and a list of countries. This is useful and it saves having the main window open. The little down arrow to the right of Quick Connect lists your profiles, so you can quickly connect to your favorite servers, or free ones you have saved as profiles.

Conclusion

Is it the best VPN? I prefer NordVPN because it has a few more features, but ProtonVPN is certainly one of the best free VPNs. Some free VPNs are awful, but this one seems pretty good. If you don’t have the money to pay for a VPN or don’t want to pay for one for some reason, ProtonVPN seems a good choice.


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