Hotspot Shield is the name of the newest addition in our VPN database – VPNs that we have to test and review, that is. In order 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 and 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
- A quick introduction to Hotspot Shield
- Creating an account
- Downloading the app on your device
- Checking the installer for malware
- Installing the application
- Free version included
- Running Hotspot Shield on your computer
- Changing the settings
- List of servers
- Services unlocked
- TOR and torrenting support
- 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.
The company has its headquarters in the U.S.A. and its flagship product is Hotspot Shield. The following fragment is a summary of what their beliefs as a company are:
“We strongly believe that online privacy is a human right; everybody deserves to browse the web securely and the Internet should remain without borders.
~David Gorodyansky, CEO”
So far, we’ve learned the company’s name, their flagship product and the fact that their 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 liberties.
On the other hand, not only the United States are members of the 5, 9, 14 Eyes Alliances, 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, despite the fact that the state doesn’t actively censor Internet content.
Terms of service analysis
Time to see where do Hotspot Shield and AnchorFree stand regarding online privacy and logging policies. That means we have to analyze their Terms of Service and see what we can find in relation to this matter.
However, since their Terms of Service documentation is quite a read (the long, tedious type), we’ll spare you the details and extract a list of essentials. Why? All in the name of accessibility, of course.
- The Terms of Service documentation has a ‘last modified’ date at the top of the page, you might want to check it every now and then for signs of changes;
- After you click the ‘install’ button in the application’s installer, it will be seen as your acceptance of the terms and conditions in all of Hotspot Shield’s policies;
- If you don’t agree with any or all of the terms of the policies, you should press the ‘I decline’ button and give up on using the product, and also return, destroy or delete all copies of AnchorFree software that you own;
- You understand that the service AnchorFree provides you with is licensed to you and not sold to you;
- The usage of the Hotspot Shield service can be subjected to third-parties such as your ISP or mobile network operator and their fees, none of which are AnchorFree’s responsibilities;
- No warranties are given to you and AnchorFree’s liability to you is limited;
- The Terms of Service document can be modified at any given time;
- Although AnchorFree will ‘make efforts’ to notify you about the changes, it is your responsibility to check the documentation periodically;
- If you keep on using the service after a major modification has occurred to the Terms of Service documentation, this action will be seen as your acceptance of the modifications;
- AnchorFree is not responsible for any user content that you transmit or access while you’re connected to the service;
- AnchorFree’s policy states that they will respond to alleged copyright infringement notices that comply with the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act);
- You are not allowed to transmit (reproduce, copy, distribute, store, burn to CD) copyrighted format that you reach while you’re connected to the service;
- You are responsible for ensuring that your device is compatible with the service;
- The service may be subjected to issues such as service failures, transmission errors, unavailability, limitations, interference, repair, maintenance, signal strength and the such;
- AnchorFree reserves their right to modify or discontinue their service at any time, which might make you eligible for a refund, but only if you’re a paid service user;
- Your access to the service might get denied if you breach the terms within the agreement;
- The AnchorFree certificates that get installed together with the service might be updated and other such certificates might be installed without prior notice;
- You are not allowed to engage in fraudulent activities, harassment, abuse and/or behave in such a way that you damage or cause risk to other persons and/or AnchorFree’s business, their reputation, customers and facilities;
- You are not allowed to use Hotspot Shield for any commercial purpose;
- You are not allowed to rent, loan, lease, sublicense, resell, distribute or transfer the service;
- You are not allowed to use the service in any unlawful manner;
- You are not allowed to engage in any form of unwanted communication (e.g. spam) while you’re connected to the service;
- You are not allowed to engage in any form of ‘hacking’ while connected to the service;
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).
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.
Since we’ve got almost everything we need from the Terms of Service documentation, we’re going to focus on how your data is protected by AnchorFree while you’re using Hotspot Shield. That’s why we’ll split this section into three parts: data they collect, how they collect it and what do they do with it.
Personal Data that you share willingly with AnchorFree
- Your email address;
- Your password;
- Your payment information;
- Contents of your messages or attachments (when you contact them);
Personal Data that they collect automatically
- Your unique mobile ID;
- Your hardware model;
- Your operating system version;
- Your language and network information;
- Your IP address;
- Your location;
- Cookies, beacons;
How / when do they collect the data:
- When you interact with their services;
- When you purchase a subscription plan;
- When you register an account;
- When you make a payment;
- When you contact them directly;
- When you launch the Hotspot Shield app;
- When you connect to the Hotspot Shield VPN;
- When you visit the website;
- When/if you use the free version of Hotspot Shield that features ads;
How do they use and share your data:
- To maintain, operate and enhance their service;
- To understand usage trends and aggregate them in order to develop new products;
- To contact you for various reasons;
- To contact you for marketing reasons;
- To prevent and monitor fraud;
- To perform audits;
- To register your account;
- To provide their service to you;
- To respond to your inquiries;
- To enforce their Terms of Service;
“Our VPN product will never store or log your IP address beyond the duration of your VPN session, and we always delete your IP address after you disconnect from the VPN. We do not keep logs of your online activities and never associate any domains, or applications that you access while the Hotspot Shield VPN is connected with you, your device, or your email.”
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 3200 servers in more than 70 countries and benefit from an automatic kill switch.
Creating an account
It’s not a must to create an account in order to use Hotspot Shield since they provide you with two types of services: a premium one, which requires an account, but also a free one, that displays ads. However, assuming that you’re going to choose the premium one, let us show you how to create an account:
- Navigate to the landing page of the product;
- Locate the “Sign In” button located in the top-right corner of the page and click it (check the screenshot);
- Click the “Create account” button to switch from the “Sign In” section to the “Create an account” one;
- Type your email address and the password in the designated fields;
- Click the “Create account” button;
- Check your inbox for the confirmation email and verify your account;
You should now be within your account’s dashboard. Once you’re there, you can easily upgrade to a premium membership by clicking the ‘Upgrade’ button, choosing a subscription plan, typing your credentials and payment information and that’s about it.
Downloading the app on your device
Since you’re already aware that Hotspot Shield comes with a free version, you’re probably off to try it.
- Navigate to the landing page;
- Click the “Get Hotspot Shield” button located somewhere in the center of the page;
- Wait for the installer executable to be downloaded on your computer;
Post-download, you’ll be greeted by a new page, where you can re-load the download attempt if it didn’t work and view a bunch of brief descriptions regarding your future activity with their service (installation, signing in and connecting to the service).
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 me: 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 ol’ scan, just to make sure that it hasn’t been compromised and installing it on our devices is going to be fine. Remember a while back when AnchorFree claimed that they reserve the right to install additional security certificates on your machine and update them as they wish? That could be a very easy-to-exploit target.
During our VirusTotal scanning of the Hotspot Shield installer, we’ve detected nothing wrong, 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 8.4.5.
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. I 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.
However, 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 quickly switch the server. 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, enable the kill switch (which should be automated, as stated on the main page of their website), as well as automatically turn on Hotspot Shield for safe and/or unsafe Wi-Fi networks and for other networks.
List of servers
Not exactly a list of servers, but a list of locations (98) that you can connect to while using Hotspot Shield. They claim they have over 3200 servers in more than 70 countries, so the complete list would’ve been overwhelming, to say at least.
United States – 27 cities
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Isle of Man
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 about 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 from the Internet, 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.
We’ve noticed that Hotspot Shield has the 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 the 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.
- New York, U.S.A. – 80 Mbps;
- Germany – 100 Mbps;
- Brazil – 110 Mbps;
- Hong Kong – 75 Mbps;
- Egypt – 93 Mbps;
- Australia – 77 Mbps;
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||1 Year||3 Years|
|Virtual locations||1 location (USA)||70+ 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 all premium plans are covered by this refund policy.
To sum it up, Hotspot Shield is a VPN service that has been developed by a company called AnchorFree, which are 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.
AnchorFree 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 3200 servers in more than 70 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, 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 conversating 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, it has security, it features a zero-logging policy, it 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.