The VPN marketplace is crowded with anonymizing data hustlers clamoring for your attention and your dollars. When Google entered the fray in October 2020 with its Google One VPN offering exclusively for mobile, it made a few ripples, but not any big waves. That could be about to change with VPN clients becoming available for Windows and macOS desktops. But should you use it?
What Is a VPN, and Why Should You Use One?
A virtual private network, as used by many consumers, is a tool to anonymize your data and make it appear to servers that you’re located elsewhere in the world. Most VPN providers also encrypt your data so that it’s resistant to Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks from would-be snoopers.
What Is the Google One VPN?
Google One launched in 2018 and is a cloud storage solution similar to Dropbox, Microsoft’s OneDrive, or the open source NextCloud. It enables users to rent storage of between 100GB and 2TB to use across the company’s Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos products. Paid plans for Google One come with a range of other benefits, and if you subscribe to the highest tier of storage (2TB at $10 per month), you also get access to the Google One VPN, allowing you to disguise your raw traffic from snoopers.
Google has been pushing users into paying for cloud storage for some time, and including the use of a VPN in the premium Google One tier seems like a good incentive—especially if you’re considering using a VPN anyway.
Google’s Promises of Privacy
All VPN companies promise privacy and anonymity. They swear that they’ll never hand over your details to the FBI, to copyright lawyers, or to marketers.
Google has a helpful support page which clarifies some privacy questions you may have about the service. The company explains that its VPN will “shield against hackers on unsecure networks, like public Wi-Fi,” and that “when you hide your IP address, others can’t use your IP address to track your location.” It goes on to say that:
VPN by Google One leverages advanced cryptographic techniques to ensure that no one, not even Google, can associate your network traffic with your account or identity. In addition, your network traffic and IP address will never be logged, and Google will never use the VPN connection to track, log, or sell your online activity.
Google maintains that it does the minimum amount of logging in order to improve the overall experience, debug the service, and prevent fraud. This logging includes error logs; the number of recent connections to limit concurrent sessions; and how often the service was used in the last month.
Is Google One VPN Worth Using on Desktop?
Whether it’s worth subscribing to the Google One VPN depends on your use case.
If you want a VPN because you’re engaged in political strife in your home country, then no. Google One VPN is only available in 22 countries, and none of them are ones which could be easily classed as oppressive police states.
And if you want a VPN because you dislike being tracked by predatory ad giants, the answer is the same. Your IP address is one small piece of identifying information. Most legitimate online activity takes place in browsers. The world’s most popular browser is made, owned, and operated by Google, and you need a Google account to use its VPN. Google is the company doing most of the online tracking, and the Google One VPN won’t protect you or your browser activity from Google itself.
Google’s VPN doesn’t let you choose a location, so there’s no circumventing geoblocks either.
If you plan to use the Google’s VPN as a cover to commit illegal activity, be aware that Google is known to cooperate with authorities, and even has a web portal through which officials can submit requests for user data.
Is Google One VPN Better Than Its Competitors?
So how does Google One VPN stack up against its competitors?
- While the price is comparable to a standard commercial VPN for a single month, there are no discounts for commitment. Over an average three-year period, Google One VPN will cost around $280 more.
- Google One VPN does not allow you to choose your server location, making it almost unique in the paid-for VPN field.
- Unlike many competitors which accept cryptocurrencies, your payment information and identity is irrevocably tied to your VPN.
- Some VPN providers, such as Cryptoseal, shut down entirely when it became likely they could be legally forced to hand over encryption keys. Others completely withdraw from territories where the law requires them to collect user data. We can’t see Google doing either.
- Google often kills off its products without regard for whether users value them. Its VPN could be next.
Google Already Knows Everything About You
If you use a Google account (and if you’re using its VPN, you have to), Google already knows everything about you. It knows where you live, where you work, and who you talk to. It reads, and will sometimes restrict, your private documents. It knows your web history and your every darkest desire. We’re not entirely sure who this VPN is supposed to be aimed at, but it’s certainly not for people who genuinely value their privacy. Anyone who wants to keep their private lives private should steer clear of Google.