Spotflux: Finally, A Free VPN
Jacob Penderworth on March 22nd 2013
Cloak is a fantastic little VPN that protects your privacy and allows you to browse the Internet safely on your Mac. Unfortunately, you must pay a price for quality.
Or must you? The team at Spotflux doesn’t think you should pay for privacy, so they have developed a great little VPN that works on Mac, Windows, iOS, and soon Android. As with anything that’s free, there must be a downside, right? Let’s find out.
Bare Bones VPN
Spotflux is enabled upon launch.
Spotflux has two main features: security and privacy. In other words, if you’re on a WiFi network that has no encryption, it’s the perfect way to ensure your sensitive information isn’t easy to access wirelessly. Any ill-doer could intercept your information if it’s being transferred over a public network. For the sake of your security, it’s worth using a VPN at the local coffee shop or library.
As with most companies these days, Spotflux says it’s using “the cloud” to protect your data. Since that’s now the generalized term for all computing on a remote server, this is indeed so, but it’s mainly a marketing technique. You can also run things through a proxy and then through Spotflux if you like using that additional server. However, the actual service is quite good on it’s own. You can choose between using it as just a VPN or with added functionality using filters.
Filters Block Ads, Malware, and Tracking Code
Spotflux has one very unique feature: filters. Instead of using an ad blocker like I do, you can just switch on the VPN and it will remove them from the pages for you. I didn’t find it as effective as some of the browser plugins out there, but it’s definitely useful when browsing the Net.
Use filters or keep them disabled.
There are other filters, too. The service tries its best to stop malware from downloading to your computer. With a Mac, this isn’t as much of a problem, but it is nice to have that extra layer between the virus’ server and your computer. Lastly, the app blocks tracking code, or “cookies” as they’re more commonly known. I personally don’t need any of these “filters” — most people don’t, and they might even break some web apps — but they do act as an extra layer of security and not a whole lot of resources are used to have them running.
For a free service, you can’t expect perpetual uptime. It’s good to want consistency, but never complete reliability. Spotflux, thankfully, is one of those services that maintains consistency. I did experience some random disconnects, but overall daily usage has been very smooth. My only complaint is that when I’m downloading a file, it stops and I’m unable to start it at that point. Since it takes a good 45 seconds for Spotflux to switch back on after a disconnect, things can sometimes become inconvenient.
What About This Whole “Free” Concept?
Lately, a lot of services have started out by being unconditionally free. From the perspective of a user, this is a great trait to see in an app or company. And it’s evident that, when the consuming party gets what it wants, all is well in the eyes of everyone else. Sadly, when you take time to look at the core, things are falling apart.
Apple’s banner on an App Store promotion.
As Michael Jurewitz explained in an editorial related to the matter, the free mindset that developers have can be harmful to the company, and even sometimes end user. The problem is that, while beginning well, the process of a free business model goes downhill due to one flaw: most companies don’t want to be non-profit. That’s why Twitter took the sponsorship approach, Facebook went crazy with advertisements, and App.net was born. It is possible to offer a service for free, but the price is one that users must pay.
Spotflux has it’s money on mobile.
With Spotflux, I found it very hard to understand what the company would do for revenue. To help things along, I spoke with Chris Naegelin, co-founder of the service. Naegelin said that Spotflux is currently only free on the desktop; if you’re using a mobile device, the service is paid. “We also monetize during the install process if a user opts-in to one of our bundle partners such as Dashlane,” he noted.
Thankfully, the co-founder said that the company “[plans] to always have an unlimited free tier”. There will be a “premium” version available on the desktop later this year, but currently the free option is all that’s offered as a sort of starting point.
I asked Naegelin what the company’s plans for the future are and, while he said that most of them are confidential, he made it a point for users to know that there will be much more focus on safe and private browsing.
Simple and Functional
Spotflux is a great app. You won’t easily find another truly free VPN out there that’s the quality of this one. There’s not a lot in the app to go on about because it’s really quite simple. It’s not like the average user needs more in a VPN than what this one offers. The privacy features and malware protection are really nice and the servers have always been speedy enough for my needs. As for the moments of downtime, they’re not that bad — it just takes longer to enable the service.