Hotspot Shield is the name of the newest addition in our VPN database – VPNs that we have to test and review, that is. For such a product to earn its place in our database, we need to run a series of tests (usability, security, and speed) on it. Also, to find out a bunch of details about it, such as its logging policy, what kind of data it collects, company info, and what kind of services it’s compatible with.
We’d like to run you through the whole operation in a couple of minutes, but unfortunately, our assessment process is a lengthy, tedious process that includes several steps. So we thought you’d appreciate a quick way to navigate through the review’s main points, so we included a table of content for your convenience.
- Company information
- U.S.A. Jurisdiction
- Terms of service analysis
- Security concerns in the past
- A quick introduction to Hotspot Shield
- Creating an account
- Checking the installer for malware
- Installing the application
- Free version included
- Running Hotspot Shield on your computer
- Changing the settings
- Limited split-tunneling capabilities
- List of servers
- Services unlocked
- TOR and torrenting support
- Hotspot Shield and online gaming – a good combo?
- Getting Hotspot Shield to work in China
- Customer support
- Security check-up results
- Speed test results
- Pricing plans
The company that started the Hotspot Shield project is called AnchorFree, and it was founded in 2005 by two friends, Eugene Malobrodsky and David Gorodyansky. Initially, they provided free sponsored Wi-Fi hotspots but later started developing applications.
Since 2019 however, Pango operates all Hotspot Shield services, which includes a special subscription package that also gets you services la 1Password, Robo Shield, and Identity Guard. The company is based in California, U.S.A. As a side note, if you happen to live outside the US/Canada, the subscription mention above also gets you access to Hiya, which is a service designed to block robocalls and other annoying calls.
So far, we’ve learned the company’s name, its flagship product, and the fact that its headquarters is located in the U.S.A. But what does that mean for us, common users, and what kind of impact can it have on our privacy? Let’s study a bit of U.S.A. jurisdiction, shall we?
First of all, using a VPN in the United States is perfectly legal. Additionally, the U.S.A. has quite the reputation of supporting human rights, privacy, freedom of speech, and civil rights.
On the other hand, not only the United States are members of the 5, 9, 14 Eyes Alliances, but they’re actually founding member. What this means is that in case any other country that’s a member of the alliances mentioned above requests data from the United States, they’re legally bound to provide it, at all costs.
More so, there have been some reports that the U.S. intelligence agencies have been monitoring ISPs for quite a while, although the state doesn’t actively censor Internet content.
Terms of service analysis
Time to see where do Hotspot Shield and Pango stand regarding online privacy and logging policies. That means we have to analyze their Terms of Service and see what we can find related to this.
However, keep in mind that Pango’s terms of service are designed to apply to all their services, not just Hotspot Shield. In addition, it’s worth pointing out that the ToS section on Pango is kind of barren and lacking in information.
- You are not allowed to use the Pango or Hotspot Shield websites to send harmful or otherwise illegal content
- You cannot modify or otherwise breach the website
- You cannot upload copyrighted content to the website, including images or videos
- You cannot break any laws while using the website
Failure to comply with the terms and conditions above might and probably end with your account being terminated. More so, you might also be held responsible from a legal perspective (e.g., dragged to court).
In addition to Pango’s Terms of Service, you also agree to a separate ToS that pertains only to Hotspot Shield. This document is a lot lengthier than what you find on Pango’s website, so here’s a summary:
- The service is not sold to you, but licensed
- The service may be subject to third-party terms of service, as well as other fees
- You consent to the collection, use, and disclosure of your personally identifiable information
- By agreeing with this document, both you and Pango are waiving the right to a trial by jury or to participate in a class action
- If you post any user content that is prohibited by this agreement, Pango can terminate your account, remove your user content, as well as report you to law enforcement authorities
- You are solely responsible for the content you post
- You are responsible for canceling your subscription, otherwise, Pango will auto-renew it
- Pango reserves the right to modify or discontinue the service at any time, without notice. You may be entitled to refunds
- Pango can terminate your service at any time, without any warning, and for any reason
- Your personal information may be available to third-parties in the case of advertisements
- You can terminate your subscription at any point as well
Another long and tedious read lies ahead of us, but we’ll do our best to give it the same treatment, which is extracting the very essence of this policy and bring it back to you.
Personal Data that you share willingly with Pango
- Account information – including name, username, email address, and password
- Billing and payment information – including billing name, billing contact details (street addresses, email addresses), and payment instrument details.
- Information used to identify you – may include email addresses and phone numbers
- Information received while contacting the company through email or their support system – this may include things like your name, email address, and phone number
Personal Data that they collect automatically while using their services
- Usage information – the amount of bandwidth used, the duration of your sessions
- Various device information – this includes the following topics: device identifiers, browser types, device types and settings, operating system versions, mobile, wireless, and other network information (such as internet service provider name, carrier name and signal strength), and application version numbers
- Diagnostics information – this relates to the requests you make to the servers while using Pango’s services and may include things like the device and app used to make the request, timestamps, and referring URLs
- Location information – while Pango says they do not use your device’s GPS to track you, they may use your IP address in order to figure out your location, which is designed to help them recommend the fastest servers near you
Personal Data that they collect through third-parties
- Referrals – if you are invited by someone else to the service, you will have to provide your email address and other information in the process
- Third-party accounts – If you use a Microsoft or a Google account to register for a service, that data is also collected by Pango
- Threat information – this is information that Pango receives from security experts, and it includes possible spam blacklists, malicious URLs, and phone numbers. Some personal information may also be shared this way, by accident.
- Business customers – if you use a business solution, some of your personal info may be collected as well
How is your collected data used:
- To improve, maintain, or troubleshoot the services you have been using
- For payment purposes
- In order to get in touch with users and customers
- To develop new services based on how you interact with the existing products
- In order to market and advertise their services
- In order to protect the company from harm in case you are engaging in illegal activity
- To comply with legal requirements and to enforce the company’s legal rights
Who is your information shared with and why:
- With various third-parties when you create an account through them, such as Microsoft or Google
- With your organization, if your company purchases a product
- With affiliates and third-party service providers – this can include payment information, analytics, and advertising information
- Your data may be shared for research and security purposes
- If the company is acquired, your information will be shared with the new owners
- With various legal entities in case they request it, or if the company is trying to protect itself from legal threats
Security concerns in the past
As it turns out, Hotspot Shield does not have a spotless record when it comes to handling user data, given the fact that it was accused of wrongdoings in this regard. In short, the Washington DC Center for Democracy & Technology argued that the service does not offer true anonymous browsing, given the fact that it intercepts and redirects web traffic to various other partner websites and advertising companies.
At the time, AnchorFree’s CEO denied these allegations:
“We strongly believe in online consumer privacy. This means that the information Hotspot Shield users provide to us is never associated with their online activities when they are using Hotspot Shield, we do not store user IP addresses and protect user personally identifiable information from both third parties and from ourselves.”
A quick introduction to Hotspot Shield
We’re certain that Hotspot Shield is a VPN service provider, so what else can we find out about it? Let’s see. On their website, they claim that they offer a simple, one-click connection, military-grade encryption and security, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited server switches, dedicated live tech support, and a hassle-free 45-day money-back guarantee.
On the same page, we notice their support for iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows devices, but from the Chrome web browser as well (as an extension). You can connect up to five (5) devices on the same account, connect to over 3,200 servers in more than 80 countries, and benefit from an automatic kill switch.
Creating an account
You can purchase a subscription and create your Hotspot Shield account at the same time. This is fairly easy to achieve, and you can do that by following the steps below:
- Go to Hotspot Shield;
- Click on “Get the #1 VPN” button;
- Choose a subscription from the available options (Save 77% on Hotspot Shield now!)
- Choose a payment method;
- Press the “Continue” button
That’s it! After following these steps, you should have a Hotspot Shield subscription to use within the app, as well as access to the dashboard.
The online dashboard is not as feature-rich as it is the case for other services, but there is still some useful information to be found there. Thus, you can use it to see how much subscription time you have left, as well as to renew the service if you happen to run out of time.
Not only that, but there is also a panel that shows you how many active devices you have linked to your account, which is useful if you want to know how many more can you connect before running out of spots. Besides, you can also use the dashboard to unlink the desired devices, just in case you want to make room for some new ones.
If you want to download the app to your device, you can also do this from the dashboard. In order to do that, you can follow the steps below:
- Click on the “Hotspot Shield” button in the left sidebar
- Click on the “Download Now” button at the bottom of the page
- Wait for the download to start and enjoy!
Checking the installer for malware
We know that you’re probably eager to give the service a test drive, but that’s no reason to act haphazardly. Take a deep breath and listen to us: everything that comes in touch with your computer is a potential weapon of mass destruction for your data.
So, what we’re going to do next is head to VirusTotal and give the installer a good old scan, just to make sure that it hasn’t been compromised and installing it on our devices is going to be fine.
During our VirusTotal scanning of the Hotspot Shield installer, we’ve detected no malware results, as you can see by taking a look at our results and checking our screenshot below.
Installing the application
Alright, now that we’ve got the installer on our PC and made sure that it’s safe to install it by scanning it for malware, it’s time to deploy it. Although the process is a walk in the park, we’ll mention the steps, just to be on the safe side.
- Double-click the Hotspot Shield executable you’ve just downloaded and scanned;
- Choose the language you prefer from the combo menu in the top-right part of the screen;
- Hit the ‘Install’ button;
- Wait for the installation process to unfold;
As you can see, there’s no customization possibility, no TAP driver adapter dialog, no “trusted publisher” dialog, no hassle. You just click one button and let the installer do the work for you. If you want, you can explore the presentation shown to you during the setup.
The version of Hotspot Shield we’ve installed on our computer is 9.6.5.
Free version included
The version of Hotspot Shield that you’ve downloaded on your PC is somewhat universal, meaning that it starts as a free version of the VPN service that can be ‘evolved’ in the premium version by simply logging into your premium account.
However, notice that the free version comes with a 500 MBs limit, so you can’t use it for more than 500 MBs worth of traffic. We merely fired it up, and almost 1 MB went away in a few seconds, so aside from seeing if it works on your device, there’s really not much you can do with it.
Nonetheless, we’ve heard something about the free version being ad-ridden, so we’ve tried to log into a free account we just created and expected to be flooded by ads. No ads were to be seen, but the same 500 MBs limit was in place. Now there are two possible explanations: either they gave up the ad-ridden app and replaced it with a bandwidth limitation or the ad-ridden app is available on other devices (other than PCs).
Anyway, if you’re not satisfied with the 500 Mb limited app, we’ve noticed that Hotspot Shield also gives you a 7-day trial of the premium version, which obviously removes the limitation and lets you enjoy the app as if you were a premium plan user.
Running Hotspot Shield on your computer
Assuming you’ve decided to give the trial version a go or purchase a premium subscription plan, log into your account so we can start exploring everything this service has to give. After logging in, we’ve noticed a large on/off button, a hamburger menu, and a globe button.
Clicking the globe button grants you access to all of the servers that Hotspot Shield lets you connect to. Once you’ve decided on your favorite one, you can establish the connection. Doing so lets you see the duration of your connection, the amount of downloaded and uploaded data, your virtual IP address, and your location on an interactive map.
Next to the interactive map, there’s a dropdown menu you can use to switch the server quickly. Clicking the hamburger button at the top-left section of the screen lets you access the configuration menu and some other categories, such as the account or help sections.
Changing the settings
Click the hamburger button as described above and select ‘Settings’ from the newly-opened menu. You can now see a bunch of general options that you can easily configure by simply flicking a switch.
That being said, you can set the app to run on startup, prevent IP leaks, and enable the kill switch (which should be automated, as stated on the main page of their website). You can also automatically turn on Hotspot Shield for safe and/or unsafe Wi-Fi networks and for other networks.
Limited split-tunneling capabilities
As it turns out, Hotspot Shield does include a split-tunneling feature, but it’s not quite as advanced as you may be used to if you are familiar with other VPN apps. In essence, Hotspot Shield only allows you to white-list certain web pages. This means that you cannot allow entire apps to bypass the VPN, which may be a problem if you want to take advantage of your native connection in certain cases.
On the other hand, it’s still better than nothing, and the good news is that you are not limited in terms of how many websites you can add to the list. Even so, it’s a bit of a bummer that you have to manually add every website, which can be a lot of work if you want to do this for every device in your house. Hence, Hotspot Shield loses a few points in this regard.
List of servers
Not exactly a list of servers, but a list of locations (147) that you can connect to while using Hotspot Shield. They claim they have over 3200 servers in more than 80 countries, so the complete list would’ve been overwhelming, to say at least.
United States – 27 cities
Canada – 4 cities
Bosnia and Herzegovina
France – 2 cities
Isle of Man
Italy – 3 cities
Spain – 2 cities
United Kingdom – 2 cities
Australia – 6 cities
United Arab Emirates
Fortunately, Hotspot Shield is among the VPN service providers that can unlock a wide variety of entertainment services, such as Netflix and its U.S. version, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and Spotify.
On the other hand, you should be aware that many of those service providers have waged war against VPN users and providers, so this situation might drastically revert itself at some point. While I don’t intend to bum you out, my advice to you would be “enjoy it while it lasts.”
TOR and torrenting support
Since torrenting is one of the major reasons why people are looking for a decent VPN service to keep their connections private and away from prying eyes, we’ve decided it would be a good thing to test Hotspot Shield for its torrenting capabilities.
We’ve first checked their torrenting policy and noticed that there’s no mention of it being a forbidden activity. More so, no dedicated P2P servers seem to come up in our server list, so we saw this as a green light. We’ve fired up our torrenting client and attempted to download a file, all in the confines of the law, of course. No slowdown, no throttling, no interruptions, worked like a charm.
As for the TOR capability of the Hotspot Shield service, while it can work in conjunction with TOR, we strongly advise you not to turn to this kind of solution to keep your connection secure. While TOR might effectively add an extra layer of security to your connection, it will slow your connection down to a pulp. More so, malicious TOR exit nodes usually pass unencrypted traffic, which makes them perfect targets for monitoring. Stay safe.
Hotspot Shield and online gaming – a good combo?
Everyone knows that having a VPN app running in the background and rerouting all traffic through a server in a different country takes its toll on your connection. The most affected demographic when it comes to latency is definitely gamers, given the fact that they need to maintain a very low ping to remain competitive.
However, Hotspot Shield does not affect your connection too much in this regard, which means that you can safely leave the VPN running in the background while gaming. Not only that, but the download speeds are phenomenal, which means that you don’t have to wait longer than usual to download patches. It’s also possible to use location spoofing and play on different servers, given the fact that the pings are more than serviceable for this purpose.
Getting Hotspot Shield to work in China
Things are a bit of a mess when it comes to Hotspot Shield and China. If you go to their website and look into the matter, you’ll find that the developers claim full functionality on Chinese territory, including access to the native app. However, it would appear that that is not the case at all, since the official website is not accessible within the country’s borders, due to the Great Firewall.
Not only that, but Hotspot Shield even encourages you to connect to a Chinese server in order to unlock content, which we all know wouldn’t work at all. It’s also quite suspicious that the company can provide its users with Chinese IP addresses since no other serious VPN can/wants to do that.
In short, the fact that the company lies about the app working in China, coupled with the fact that they seem to operate servers in China, means that you should probably not put too much trust into Hotspot Shield if you are a Chinese citizen.
We’ve noticed that Hotspot Shield has a full suite of customer support tools: live chat, email support, and a knowledge base. The live chat requires that you input your name and email and append a message in the designated fields. Alternatively, you can connect to your Facebook or Google accounts.
We’ve tried contacting the support team on both channels, and both times we’ve received friendly, helpful replies, some of which lead us to some articles in the knowledge base. The latter can be used in case you’re not a huge fan of interacting with others and would rather prefer handling stuff on your own.
Security check-up results
Alright, we’ve run the application, explored its menus, toyed with its settings, checked to see if it can unlock various services and tried to torrent some files while connected to it. But now it’s time to run our security tests, which will unfold on a server in New York, U.S.A., and then carried on as described in this article.
Conclusion: Our security tests have concluded that Hotspot Shield doesn’t leak IP, DNS, WebRTC and Flash IP data, so it can provide you with an airtight connection.
Speed test results
Now that we’ve finally finished testing for any security issue (and saw for ourselves that there was no issue), we can start running our speed tests. Compared to security tests where we typically use a single server, our speed tests will be performed on multiple servers, so that we can see if the location has any impact on our connection speed while we’re connected to the service.
|Location||Internet Speed||Latency||Upload Speed||Downloaded||Uploaded|
|U.S.A.||580 Mbps||168 ms||190 ms||19 Mbps||730 MB||60 MB|
|Germany||980 Mbps||123 ms||258 ms||19 Mbps||1220 MB||60 MB|
|Brazil||370 Mbps||164 ms||280 ms||19 Mbps||1030 MB||70 MB|
|Hong Kong||220 Mbps||312 ms||366 ms||5.6 Mbps||620 MB||20 MB|
|South Africa||230 Mbps||238 ms||412 ms||8 Mbps||630 MB||40 MB|
|Australia||550 Mbps||342 ms||380 ms||10 Mbps||840 MB||40 MB|
Alright, so we’ve been expecting these ridiculously high-speed results since the connection time (times it takes Hotspot Shield to connect you to any server) is incredibly fast. You just click it, and the connection is almost instantly established. Wow.
Hotspot Shield has several plans for you in-store, one of which is the free plan we’ve been mentioning. However, note that the free plan is heavily limited, so you should consider upgrading if you want to benefit from all the extra features.
|Duration||–||1 Month Plan||1 Year Plan||3 Years Plan|
|Virtual locations||1 location (USA)||80+ countries and 20+ US cities|
|Connection speed||1x||Up to 4x faster|
|Data plan||500 MB daily||Unlimited|
|Video streaming||Limited||Optimized for Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and more|
|Access to 3,200+ premium servers||No||Yes|
|Share premium on 5 devices||No||Yes|
|Support||FAQs||24/7 live support via chat|
|No activity logs||Yes||Yes|
|Block malware, viruses, and phishing scams||Yes||Yes|
Although the monthly plan is a bit pricey, the discounts provided for the larger subscription plans are generous. The features for the premium plans are identical, so aside from the price, there’s nothing different about them. The layout might make you think that only the 3-year plan gets the 45-day money-back guarantee, but if you poke around their website, you’ll find out that this refund policy covers all premium plans.
To sum it up, Hotspot Shield is a VPN service that’s now being operated by Pango, which is based in the U.S.A. The U.S.A. is globally known for protecting civil liberties, the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech, and while the state doesn’t actively censor online content, they’ve been known for monitoring ISPs.
That’s not exactly a surprise, considering the fact that they’re not only members of the 5, 9, 14 Eyes Alliances, they’re also a founding member of the initial BRUSA/UKUSA agreement.
Pango claim that they practice a zero-logging policy, as in they don’t store or log your IP address after you disconnect from the VPN, as they always delete it, and no logs of your online activities are kept, nor do they associate applications or domains that you access while you’re connected to the service, with you, or your device, or your email address.
They claim that their network of servers holds over 3,200 servers in more than 80 countries, which is an impressive number. We couldn’t get our hands on the complete list of servers, but what we do have is a list of locations they cover, which currently stands at 98.
The Hotspot Shield Windows application is extremely user-friendly and intuitive since it only holds an on/off switch and a server selection menu for the sole purpose of connecting to and disconnecting from the server of your choice. If you want to get your hands ‘dirty’, there is a bunch of settings that you can configure, none of which are very technical. You can only modify some app behavior options, enable a kill switch, and activate an IP leak prevention.
This VPN service is capable of unlocking various entertainment services such as Netflix and its U.S. version, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and Spotify, it supports torrenting and works in conjunction with TOR (although we’d advise you not to use TOR with any VPN).
During our security tests, we didn’t identify any issue regarding IP, DNS, WebRTC, or Flash IP leaks, so we considered the Hotspot Shield connection to be airtight. Our speed test results were sky-high, and the time it took the service to connect us to a new/another server was incredibly low.
The customer support features a live chat, email support, and also a knowledge base for users who prefer taking matters into their own hands instead of speaking with anyone else. We gave the chat and email services a try, and each time we received prompt, friendly, and helpful replies to our inquiries.
Hotspot Shield comes with a heavily-limited but free version that lets you take it for a spin before deciding if buying a premium subscription plan is worth it or not. And if that’s not enough, they also throw in a 7-day premium trial in there, just to spice things up.
The monthly subscription plan is a bit expensive, but the larger plans come with generous discounts. More so, all of the plans come with the same features, so the only thing that you could tell them apart by is their price.
Do we recommend Hotspot Shield? Absolutely yes, if you’re not bothered by the fact that their headquarters is located in a 5, 9, 14 Eyes Alliances country. It has speed and security, features a zero-logging policy, can unlock Netflix, and torrenting works like a charm with it.
+ Works with TOR and supports torrenting; (5)
+ Good security, leak-free; (5)
+ 7-day trial; (4.5)
+ Free, limited version included; (3)
+ High connection speeds; (5)
+ Can unlock Netflix, Hulu, etc; (5)
– The U.S.A. is a founding member of the 5, 9, 14 Eyes Alliances; (0)
Hotspot Shield receives a 3.92/5 rating.