Firefox Private Network: Free Browser-Based VPN Encryption During Beta

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If you’re like me, you take advantage of all the free WiFi you can get to avoid having to pay too much for a big cellular data plan. Coffee shops, airports, libraries, hotels, conference centers, etc. The problem is that (as Mozilla puts it) if a “Wi-Fi connection is free and open to you, it’s also free and open to hackers”. The solution to this problem is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that acts like a secure “tunnel” between you and the service you are reaching. The VPN tunnel keeps other folks from peeking in on your e-mail passwords, website visits, exact location, and so forth.

Firefox promotes itself as a privacy-focused web browser alternative, and its newest feature is called Firefox Private Network, which bakes VPN encryption into the browser itself. While it is in beta testing, this feature is free to all Firefox for desktop users in the United States. They do plan on charging for it at some point in the future. However, I think this presents a good opportunity for more people to become more familiar with using a VPN and see that it isn’t very complicated.

While I don’t necessarily feel everyone “needs” a VPN, I have used one myself for many years. Even if I only occasionally work in public spaces with shady WiFi, I figure that paying a few bucks a month is worth avoid a bigger cellular data plan and it allows me to connect to that free airport WiFi with peace of mind. Some people use a VPN 24/7 as they don’t want Comcast/Spectrum/AT&T/Verizon collecting their internet data either.

I’m not a VPN expert, but I switched to NordVPN about a year ago because their “no logs” policy was audited (VPN reviews are a mess in general) and a 3-year subscription cost only $3.49/month. I switched from Encrypt.me, which also worked fine but it costs a lot more at $10 a month or $99 a year. Other options: The winner of a Lifehacker poll was Private Internet Access. The Wirecutter picked TunnelBear. (NordVPN, TunnelBear, and PIA are affiliate links, Encrypt.me and Firefox PN are not.)

If you use a traditional VPN service (not the Firefox version), they usually allow you to change your IP address location so that for example you can use Netflix even when you travel temporarily internationally. It also helps me do some website testing as I can see how different sites load if I was visiting from Europe, Asia, etc. Which reminds me, if you are self-employed or run your own business, a VPN can be a worthwhile tax-deductible business expense.

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Comments

  1. This is great news. My wife and I subscribe to a VPN service for all our devices which I recommend to everybody. I will definitely try out the Firefox version. We have been using ExpressVPN for about 5 years.

  2. The thing about a vpn is you have to trust your vpn more than your isp, Because it they want they can just as easily sell your location, browser history and other data to who ever and your probably wouldn’t know. I’m not sure I would even want to use a free or good deal vpn. I have trust issues so I rather just risk a hack which I have never seen so far that tunnel everything through a vpn. Also if your using https that is also perfectly safe over WiFi. I also have visible for $40 a month and get Verizon unlimited data.

  3. Wirecutter’s most recent review of VPN services may be of some relevance to those in the market: https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-vpn-service/

    • Thanks, although I didn’t link to any specific lists because if reading about VPN rankings will make your head spin. There is so much based on pure speculation and hidden biases, even from Wirecutter. (Very similar to web hosting reviews.) Here’s another reputable ranking list (and no logs sub-list) that looks very different:

      https://restoreprivacy.com/best-vpn/
      https://restoreprivacy.com/no-logs-vpn/

      • Just FYI from the wirecutter review:
        We dismissed three VPNs—NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark—for not being public about their ownership or leadership. “Would you put your money in a bank where you don’t know what laws govern it or who owns it or who manages it?” asked security researcher Kenn White. “Would you go to a financial adviser using a fake identity?”

  4. Opera has an option for free VPN in their browser. Anyone know about that service? I don’t think they plan to charge in the future.

  5. Frank Ringer says:

    Thanks for this.

  6. I’ve used Express VPN for years after researching the options available. What I like about them (in addition to the features in the reviews) is their support and easy interface.I had a recent problem when Google apparently decided it didn’t like VPN because everytime I searched they would put up the captcha 3 times and then block the search. Express VPN knew about it when I contacted them; they were working on the problem in the background and it just went away in a few days.

  7. To me, there doesn’t seem to be much point in a browser-only VPN. If you are visiting websites that use TLS (https), you are already interacting over an encrypted connection–why add another layer of encryption that will just make it slower? Every website where security is needed should definitely be using TLS, so this would really only be useful for plain http browsing if you think someone might spy on you over public wifi.

  8. John Conner says:

    I’ve been using Mullvad for a few years and I like the fact that they don’t take personal information when signing up. You can even pay with cash. It is based in Sweden. Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN use some sort of Google products to track you on their websites. That’s why I don’t trust them.

  9. I have been using Surfshark for a couple of months now, but I’m pretty happy that internet browsers are starting to provide vpn services themselves. Maybe as time will go by we won’t need to be buying subscriptions anymore, we’ll be able to use ones that already come with the products we use. I think we can all agree that privacy is important so we should try to protect it and educate others about it.

  10. Opera allow you to choose your VPN location. It helps when you are traveling.
    I do not see any setting available in firefox VPN.

  11. John Conner, I agree with you about Mullvad, but my assumption was that NordVPN is in the same league.

    Where do you get it from that NordVPN is tracking you? All the reviews I’d seem were positive, no logs, no traces.

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