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"VPN review" websites: Good, Bad, & Scammy

Encouraging best practices in the VPN industry via independent, community-certified verification of clean installers and clean basic service operations. Let's reward the good, and make the bad a little bit less tempting 〰 github repo#cleanVPN
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"VPN review" websites: Good, Bad, & Scammy

Postby Pattern_Juggled » Fri Apr 05, 2013 1:12 pm

They're everywhere. They're impossible to avoid, even if you want to. And they're more and more ubiquitous as time goes by...

No, not generous taxpayer-subsidized bank bailouts - we're talking about "VPN review" websites. You've seen 'em, and you've probably even read reviews on them. I mean, it makes sense: see what other customers have to say, and then make a choice based on that sound, firsthand advice.

And sometimes it works that way. But more and more, over the years, what we've seen is "VPN review" websites that are actually just link farms for affiliate programs. Now, there's nothing wrong with affiliate programs - Cryptocloud runs one (sort of quietly, I'd say, but that's just me), as do most all the serious participants in the industry (and quite a few non-serious ones, to boot). Nice way to get the word out, and all that. Decentralized marketing, and so on.

But when those affiliate programs get bundled up into a site that presents itself as an objective reviewer of encrypted routing service (ERS) providers - aka "VPN companies," in the old parlance - the resulting combo is more than a tad unseemly. Because, obviously, these review websites are going to pimp, err "promote," VPN companies that offer the review website the highest payouts for signups - that's pretty obvious, but it's worth repeating: VPN review websites that make money from affiliate commissions are not objective, independent providers of information about EPR/VPN providers.

We first started noticing this years ago, when seemingly-automated "reviews" would show up on certain VPN review websites, stuff that sounded like: "I signed up for {insert generic newly-birthed VPN company name with a high affiliate payout} and they are just great!!!! Super service and always fast!!!!! Never have any problems with the network, it's sure great!!!!!!!" ...ummm, yeah. And when we'd poke at those sites - perhaps suggest they were (inadvertently?) getting hit by spambots filing fake "reviews," they'd get mad. Like... really mad. We didn't get it - why get mad if someone points out spambot submissions? But then... aaaah, yes - affiliate link farms, now it all makes sense.

To be clear, there's still legitimate VPN review websites out there: they tell it like it is, they reject affiliate payouts - or any other kind of "compensation" from VPN companies. They remove spambot review submissions, and any other reviews that are clearly full of shite. But, sadly, those folks are in the minority nowadays. We'll highlight the ones we know - the legitimate ones - here in this thread, as well.

But let's talk about the link farms...

Here's a good example of one that is, at the least, honest about their economic model: vpnservicereview.net. They seem fairly new. We noticed them when they published a "bittorrent friendly VPN service" article that has some, err, really inexplicable inclusions in the list. One of our folks submitted a comment, and then he pointed me at something interesting in the site.

That'd be the "Compensation Disclosure page. Fascinating! Once again, props to the vpnservicereview.net for being honest and upfront about this. But it's still worth quoting from their page, as it basically provides a roadmap for how less honest linkfarm-style affiliate commission "VPN review" websites run their businesses. Here goes...

POTENTIAL BIAS AND DUE DILIGENCE

The Owner’s opinion about a product or service may be partially formed (consciously or subconsciously) in part based on the fact that the Owner has been compensated or will be compensated because of the Owner’s business relationships with the Providers.

In some instances, the Owner and a Provider will have a business or personal relationship that does not involve the Owner receiving compensation related to products and services mentioned on http://vpnservicereview.net/. However, the nature of the relationship is sufficient to establish a material connection between the Owner and the Provider.

Because there is a material connection between the Owner and Providers of products or services mentioned on http://vpnservicereview.net/, you should always assume that the Owner may be biased because of the Owner’s relationship with a Provider and/or because the Owner has received or will receive something of value from a Provider.

Perform your own due diligence before purchasing a product or service mentioned on http://vpnservicereview.net/ (or any other website).


COMPENSATION

The type of compensation received by the Owner may vary. In some instances, the Owner may receive complimentary products, services, or money from a Provider prior to mentioning the Provider’s products or services on http://vpnservicereview.net/.

In other instances, the Owner may receive a monetary commission or non-monetary compensation when you take action based on the content of http://vpnservicereview.net/. This includes, but is not limited to, when you purchase a product or service from a Provider after clicking on an affiliate link on http://vpnservicereview.net/. {colour added - Pt_jD}


So, there you go. For actual prospective customers of EPR (aka "VPN service") providers, it's not really clear what value they get by following "recommendations" provided by sites that make their recommendation decisions based on affiliate payouts they receive for promoting certain brands, and not others - or whatever other financial scratch-your-back model is in place. Sure, they've every right to promote brands and to make money - and kudos to the ones, like vpnservicereview.net, who are honest and upfront about it - but what about the customers themselves?

I'd like to suggest two simple rules for those participants in this sub-world of VPN review websites - the sites themselves, and the VPN companies - who make the choice to retain complete integrity. They're really simple:

    1. If you're a VPN company, never engage in "pay for placement" with VPN review websites. Period. Not directly, via advertising deals that include a "we'll say good things about you, editorially" provision - and not indirectly, via affiliate structures. This isn't hard to do: simply avoid doing deals like this. It's not like such deals happen by accident, and in the case of affiliates who then set up faux "review" websites, it's easy enough to contact them and tell them they're out of pocket with your company guidelines.

    2. If you're a VPN review website, brag loud and clear if you run your site without taking any compensation - direct or indirect - from the companies you review. Surely, customers will see that you're far more likely to speak true, and your visitor counts will rise in turn. You won't get those juicy affiliate revenue streams, true - but you'll take leadership with your stance, and people will notice what you're doing.

This isn't to say - necessarily - that industry participants who don't adhere to these ethical standards are somehow less morally pure. They're not. They're just, um... operating in a different manner, is all. Less transparent. Less customer-focussed. Less clear in how they promote themselves, and in how they want to be seen by the world at large.

The sad fact is that many of the so-called "leaders" in today's VPN industry basically got there by gaming the "VPN review" website system. They paid for good reviews, they spammed sites with fake "reviews" written by the company, and - perhaps most seedy - they engaged in orgies of vicious anti-competitor fake review submissions to "muddy the water" and make their own brands (with their pages of fake "good" reviews on the review websites) seem head and shoulders above everyone else.

The real EPR companies, in contrast, were generally busy running their networks, improving their technology, fighting for their customers' privacy, developing new jurisdictional tools... and didn't waste their time spamming review websites, or doing shady backroom deals to get for-pay review websites to promote their brands. Basically, it's either one, or the other: run a real company and spend time doing real work, or play the game of fake VPN reviews, and to hell with the real details of running a secure VPN network.

Sadly, those who ditched real investment in favor of playing VPN review games have generally fared quite well for themselves over time. But we foresee a shakeout; customers are getting wise to the fake review website situation. They aren't so gullible. And, as that happens, review websites - and EPR/VPN companies - with integrity are coming back to the forefront of the industry.

As it should be.


REMINDER: we want to again emphasize that vpnservicereview.net's choice to be open and honest about their compensation structure is laudable, and that we're not at all "attacking" them in this article - there's seedy review websites out there, but nothing we see suggests that vpnservicereview.net is in that category; we've used their language here only as an example, and if anything we want to highlight their honesty in publishing that language publicly as they do.
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vpnarea

Re: "VPN review" websites: Good, Bad, & Scammy

Postby vpnarea » Thu Apr 18, 2013 1:38 am

Hello,

Please consider our VPN business - http://vpnarea.com

It was designed to ensure the maximum privacy for the customers and to be an example of what a VPN company should be about.

The extra steps we did in the name of privacy and anonymity:

1) Hosted in Switzerland

2) Registered in Bulgaria

3) Countless rare VPN server locations like Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Egypt, Chile, Isle of Man, Ukraine, Singapore and so on.

4) Strong no logs policy

5) LibertyReserve accepted as payment method.

6) Socks5 proxies included as free bonus feature for the members

7) Large list of open DNS resolvers is included to prevent DNS leaks.

8) Socks Chain Houdini Anonymizer proxy manager software was created by us to provider the users with the ultimate anonymity tool.

9) Limited account information required.

If this is not enough then I don't know what is, given that the rest of the VPN companies have not gone even half as far as we did.

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Re: "VPN review" websites: Good, Bad, & Scammy

Postby Pattern_Juggled » Thu Apr 18, 2013 11:20 am

vpnarea wrote:Please consider our VPN business - http://vpnarea.com

<snip>

If this is not enough then I don't know what is, given that the rest of the VPN companies have not gone even half as far as we did.


One of our forum mods flagged this post as off-topic, and he's sort of got a point: somewhat unusual to be promoting a different VPN service on a forum sponsored by a competing VPN company.

But... hey, why not? We've a pretty strong no-censorship policy here and if someone wants to show up and drop in a good word for their VPN service - particularly if they go to the effort to explain why they think it's top notch - I can't really see how deleting it does our customers, or the community, any favor.

That said, I'd like to suggest that maybe we look at some of the points being cited here as competitive advantages here - and see how they stand up. That's a useful learning exercise, for everyone involved, and helps us to see where things could be moved forward across the board.

Naturally, with all the hubaloo about Terms of Service recently, my tendency is to spin over and see what the ToS look like...

Cheers,
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Re: "VPN review" websites: Good, Bad, & Scammy

Postby cryptostorm_admin » Fri Jul 12, 2013 1:43 pm

As we've recently tweeted, it's nice to see @VPNreviewz honestly disclosing their policy on receiving commissions on VPN services they review. Quoting from their "Disclosure" page, they say that...

Disclosure

The goal of this website is to provide you with helpful information to assist you in the process of buying VPN services.
In some instances, we do earn commissions from products promoted if you buy through our link.

Personally, I would like to think of this website as unbiased by financial renumeration as we have many products for you to choose from.

The thought behind this website is that we focus on bringing you quality information and by doing so traffic will grow, our VPNReviewz brand will grow and we will be rewarded by doing our best to help you make sense of the confusing and unregulated world of VPN service providers.


We still think that a VPN review site that had a policy of refusing commissions and/or advertisements from the companies they review would gain extra credibility compared to everyone else... but that's just our opinion, and not a criticism of those who operate under the current "system" of making money from reviews.

Actually, we do criticize those who aren't honest about their policy on payments from reviewed companies - that's smarmy, and not cool. At least, when folks disclose it then their readers can judge themselves - which is fair.

Anyhow, for now we'll continue hoping for that next-generation VPN review site that goes commando, as it were...


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Snitch My Ass...

Postby Pattern_Juggled » Mon Jul 22, 2013 9:40 am

There's so many other things I could be doing this morning - should be doing, but somehow I got sidetracked into reading some "VPN review" websites rather than finishing the work I should be doing.

Always a bad idea.

As if by magic, I found myself at "Best VPN Server," and in particular at their "Find the best VPN service to unblock adult site" page. Quoting from that page:

People throughout the world like to watch the porn videos in the internet live. Not only the men but also the women like to watch them online. But in many countries like China and UAE(Oman, Kuwait, Qatar) these sites are blocked.

Specially in the middle east countries and in the hotels or any educational institution. So the tourists who visit the middle east and staying in a hotel want to watch the porn in live they do not get the opportunity.


...indeed, people around the world do like to watch the porn videos. That's not even getting to Rule 34 yet, either.

The page goes on from there, and here's the list of their recommendations for watching pron:

    ExpressVPN
    Hidemyass
    IPVanish
    VyprVPN
    OverPlay VPN

Woah, wait... Snitch My Ass - the original VPN #snitchware service - is listed as tops for watching porn? Apart from dark satire, this just doesn't seem possible. So I headed over to Snitch My Ass's Terms of Service page. Terms of Service (ToS) are what defines the obligations the company has to protect its customers, and what it promises to do, basically (here's an article from 2600 Magazine on the importance of Terms of Service). There's been a recent review of Snitch MY Ass's 'privacy policy' - an oxymoron if there ever was one (jumbo shrimp, anyone), but the ToS say as much more about what sort of protection is offered than does the privacy policy.

And indeed, Snitch My Ass has a long list of "prohibited uses" in their ToS, including...

    in any way that breaches any applicable local, national or international law or regulation;

    for the purpose of harming or attempting to harm minors in any way;

    in any way which contravenes the virus and hacking provisions as set out in Clause (Viruses, Hacking and Other Offences).

    to upload, post, email or otherwise transmit any content that is directed to inciting or producing imminent conduct that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortuous, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libellous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable and is likely to produce such conduct;

    to impersonate any person or entity or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with a person or entity;

    to forge headers or otherwise manipulate identifiers in order to disguise the origin of any content transmitted through the system;

    to upload, post, email or otherwise transmit any content that infringes any patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright or other proprietary rights of any party;

    to upload, post, email or otherwise transmit any unsolicited or unauthorized advertising, promotional materials, "junk mail," "spam," "chain letters," or "pyramid schemes";

    to interfere with or disrupt our Site's system or servers or networks connected to our Site's system, or disobey any requirements, procedures, policies or regulations of networks connected to our Site's system;

    to collect or store personal data about other users without their knowledge; or

    to promote or provide instructional information about illegal activities, promote physical harm or injury against any group or individual, or promote any act of cruelty to animals.

Phew, got that? Nothing illegal, or vulgar, or obscene... no encouraging "physical harm" or "promoting any act of cruelty to animals" - which certainly means non-vegetarians are out of luck, and anyone supporting the death penalty is in violation of the ToS. Note also the "provide instructional information about illegal activities" winner buried in there: tell someone how to clean their bong, and you're hit. And since the CFAA pretty much criminalizes the internet, if you tell someone how to use a browser, you're hit (just like weev - #FreeWeev! ...and write to him, fer chrissakes, if you have a few minutes, too).

Oh, and catch that "...any applicable local, national or international law or regulation" phrase, it's a winner. Do you have any idea how many local regulations there are in this big, strange world of ours? An uptight neighbourhood association in Singapore, say, passes a regulation (not a law, no need for that) saying that pron is evil - and that's that. According to Snitch My Ass, you better follow that local regulation - or you're in violation.

No privacy for you!

But that's only if you live in that neighbourhood in Singapore... right? Says who? What if the folks there pass a regulation saying ALL internet pr0ns are prohibited - everywhere in the world, for everyone?

No privacy for you!

Remember, this is a snitchin' VPN service being recommended by this VPN review website specifically to use for watching porn in places where it's banned by local governments! Seriously... what the fuck.

I passed this along to our friends at Baneki Privacy Labs, figuring they'd have something to say. They posted this comment - which doesn't yet appear, as it's "awaiting moderation." Those holding their breath for that, alas, are quite likely to die. It reads:

Except that, um, Snitch My Ass' Terms of Service expressly prohibit accessing porn. Quoting:

Prohibited uses include using their "privacy" VPN...

"in any way that breaches any applicable local, national or international law or regulation;
for the purpose of harming or attempting to harm minors in any way;

to upload, post, email or otherwise transmit any content that is directed to inciting or producing imminent conduct that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortuous, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libellous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable and is likely to produce such conduct."

Note "vulgar" and "obscene" - which, depending on the definition used (and who chooses, exactly?), covers basically all pr0n on the interwebs. And remember that in the United Police States of America, "indecent" materials are illegal to transmit across state lies - per federal statutes. What's the definition of "indecent?" Well, that depends on "community standards..."

HMA is confirmed, verified, 100% #snitchware. You should be ashamed to be pimping them as a "privacy service" when they've already betrayed their customers and been caught red-handed doing so.

Then again, I guess they pay good affiliate marketing commissions, don't they..?


Good point. I went looking for some sort of disclosure that this "VPN review" website takes commissions from the VPNs it pimps (in Baneki's phrase - which is apt), and I couldn't find any. The closest I could find is their how to advertise here page. Hey, at least the banner prices are pretty inexpensive...

Banner Prce {sic}

We are pleased VPN service provider advertise on our site.If you are the VPN service provider the price is,

Banner reference price (for VPN service provider):

    620 * 80 , $80/month plus affiliate commissions.
    125 x 125, $30/month plus affiliate commissions.
    300 x 250, $40/month plus affiliate commissions.

If you are not VPN service provider,or do not have affiliate programme that price is twice over than VPN service provider with affiliate.


Since they clearly mention affiliate programmes - and the doubling of banner advert prices in their absence - it's pretty clear they take affiliate revenue from the VPN companies they "review." But there's no disclosure, no promise to keep the reviews and affiliate payouts separate (the legendary "chinese wall")... nothing. Just visitors who show up, thinking they're at a - you know - "VPN review" website, when in fact they're at an affiliate linkfarm. Which is different, eh?

You gotta hand it to SnitchMyAss - they must have a great affiliate marketing programme, since they show up at the top of all these "VPN review" websites... and never a mention of their #snitchware past, not a one. Too bad they aren't as good at, you know, staying loyal to their customers as they are at getting pimps to falsely promote them as a "privacy service."

If it exists, there shall be porn of it - but don't watch that porn with a #snitchware VPN service. That's a bad plan. Kthxbye.


[align=center]ξ ξ ξ[/align]

Edited to add: did you hear that Snitch My Ass was "so sorry" for snitching on LulzSec member Cody Kretsinger? That's funny, 'cause they bray loud and clear on their ToS page - right there for the world to see - that they'll gladly go to the cops if anyone's mean to them:

You must not attempt to gain unauthorised access to, interfere with, damage or disrupt, our Site, our VPN Service the servers, equipment or network on which our Site or VPN Service is hosted, any software used in the provision of our Site or VPN Service or any server, computer or database connected to our Site or VPN Service. You must not attack our Site or VPN Service via a denial-of-service attack or a distributed denial-of service attack. By breaching this provision, you would commit a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. We will report any such breach to the relevant law enforcement authorities and we will co-operate with those authorities by disclosing your identity to them.


Not very lulzy, that. Pics or it didn't happen? Yeah, it happened...

SnitchMyAss.png


Here's a #ProTip: if you fancy yourself a big-shot "VPN service" and you are so scared of a skiddie DDoS that you threaten to call the fucking cops if you see scary packets coming your way, you'd best just take your toys and go home. Recess is over. Kindergarten is back in session. That's not how serious entities handle their shit, not at all. And, even if you don't have the balls to keep your own house clean, there's always idiot-proof anti-DDoS services like Cloudflare - not the fucking cops.

Ergo: SnitchMyAss is #snitchware
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Just another day

Postby Pattern_Juggled » Fri Dec 13, 2013 4:16 am

Just another day in the life of the "VPN review" website sewers...

tl;dr "we're an independent VPN review website, trust us for your unbiased opinions and here's a GREAT VPN service we love!!!! also, we hate this one... 'cause they cancelled our affiliate account so we don't get any more free monies! :-( :-( :-( "

Sigh.
vpn4torrents.png
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Re: "VPN review" websites: Good, Bad, & Scammy

Postby DesuStrike » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:25 pm

Hahaha! Are they stupid?! It's pretty ridiculous to be such a whiny wuss that you actually telling the whole world that your business model is based on corruption rather than actually testing and evaluating.

The VPN Review Market really seems to be like one big cancerous ulcer. I have not once find a VPN review page that doesn't have some fishy affiliate program or otherwise looks strange.
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bestvpn.com

Postby Pattern_Juggled » Sun Oct 26, 2014 3:17 pm

Interesting spec sheet, from bestvpn.com:
BestVPN_Services.pdf
(204.78 KiB) Downloaded 1573 times

And, what the hell, here's our reply to their note (I'm leaving out their email itself, as it's our policy not to publish email sent to us under assumed private circumstances unless the situation is genuinely extraordinary, or unless we're given express consent to do so by the sender at a later date - this doesn't meet either of those criteria, and thus only our reply is being posted):

{personal salutation} -

I suspect we've set some sort of ignominious record with this tardy reply, for which I apologise on behalf of our team. Your email managed to get buried in one of our customer service inboxes, and there it sat until it was unearthed during message archiving by one of our support folks. Thus it showed up in my inbox, finally.

Once we got over that hurdle, I had concerns that may have crossed up with you guys earlier. However, on review, it was a review site with a similar name. Awkward, but perhaps not fatally so. We didn't have very complimentary things to say about how they do business, to be blunt.

Finally, we really don't advertise and we don't engage in "pay to play" reviews - it's a position we've publicly stood behind, for years, and is very unlikely to change.

However, all that said, if you're interested in actually trying our network - which is, I can say without any hesitation based on years of firsthand experience in this field - the most cryptographically secure and (by far) the fastest private network service in the world - we'd be happy to share with you some test "tokens" for network access (we don't have subscribers, and we sell anonymised tokens for network access).

I understand this may not be of interest to you: we're not a likely advertiser, and we're not going to pay for a "review." But I would feel remiss in not offering. Oh, we do work with independent token resellers worldwide: they buy tokens from us, in bulk, at wholesale prices and then resell to their own customers. It's quite a profitable activity for those who are good at it, and we have a sense that someday a few leading edge (and honest) "VPN review" sites will offer tokens for sale directly to their readers. That's going to be a world-beater setup, but who knows how long it'll take until it comes to pass.

Cheers,

~ pj


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Re: "VPN review" websites: Good, Bad, & Scammy

Postby jamesvang86 » Mon Apr 27, 2015 5:12 pm

There are various VPN review site which provide great information and help their reader to take right decisions like VpnRanks.com. By and large up to my opinion most of review sites are trust worthy.

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Re: "VPN review" websites: Good, Bad, & Scammy

Postby marzametal » Tue Apr 28, 2015 9:44 am

I wouldn't call this a VPN review site, but it has some how-to stuff... just like CS does; albeit in bigger font... o0o0o0o

https://www.ivpn.net/privacy-guides

... and if you're trusting whatever you read on your screen as gospel... then you need to take a good hard look at things. Never assume, 'coz you make an ASS out of U and ME... voila, assume!

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Re: "VPN review" websites: Good, Bad, & Scammy

Postby marzametal » Tue May 17, 2016 8:37 am

I came across this recently... seems to cover a lot of VPNs, CS as well...
Two relevant options on left hand side... simple view and detailed view... Enjoy!

VPN Details


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