With over 500 million users worldwide, HotSpot Shield is the largest VPN provider on the planet.
They’ve been in business since 2005 and have grown their operation at a jaw-dropping and frankly, startling pace.
However, as is the case with many popular companies, having the most customers doesn’t necessarily mean you have the best product.
So the question remains, “Is HotSpot Shield’s massive user base a result of a stellar product or stellar marketing?”
And over the course of this review, that’s the question I hope to answer.
I’ll be discussing everything about HotSpot Shield from the performance, security, and special features of the VPN client to the history, allegations, and investigation surrounding its parent company.
Without any further ado, let’s get to it.
- What is HotSpot Shield
- CDT Privacy Accusations & the FTC Investigation
- HotSpot Shield Pricing
- Pros of Using HotSpot Shield
- Cons of Using HotSpot Shield
- How to use Hotspot Shield
- Review Conclusion
What is HotSpot Shield?
Founded in 2005 under the Umbrella of AnchorFree Inc., HotSpot Shield is one of the oldest and most widely used VPN providers on the market.
They are also one of the most publicly recognized.
Considering that their user base is larger than the entire population of the United States, it should come at no surprise that their CEO and co-founder, David Gorodyansky has appeared on countless news and media outlets positioning himself as a privacy advocate and “People’s champion”
Over the past decade or so, David has played the role of the reluctant hero quite admirably and has been very public about the efforts that HotSpot Shield is making to ensure an open and secure internet for everyone.
They’ve aided citizens in highly censored countries like Egypt, China, and Moscow by finding ways to circumvent government restrictions and deliver their free software through alternative channels.
In fact, after the Chinese government tightened their online censorship and banned HotSpot Shield’s website, David and his team sent out an email autoresponder containing the files for their application to millions of Chinese citizens, thus quadrupling their Chinese users almost overnight.
While these acts certainly seem noble, some of AnchorFree’s other activities (which we will discuss in the next section) make me wonder if it isn’t all a giant and insincere PR stunt.
But enough about the company… Let’s talk about the services they provide.
HotSpot Shield operates an impressive network from San Francisco, California that boasts thousands of servers, although the servers in question are only spread across 24 countries.
Their application is compatible with most popular devices including
- iOS / iPhone
- Google Chrome
Like many other VPNs, HotSpot Shield offers a free version of their software to ensure that users all over the world have access to an unlimited and uncensored internet.
However, as you are about to find out… Their free to use platform might not be the selfless and commendable act that the company markets it to be.
CDT Privacy Accusations & the FTC Investigation
HotSpot Shield has always been a rather suspicious company.
Considering that they are a U.S.-based VPN provider that was launched using $52 million of Series C funding from investment giant Goldman Sachs, and whose parent company is partnered with several advertising and marketing companies… I wouldn’t exactly describe the company as “Above Reproach”.
However, after a recent filing from the CDT and a proceeding FTC investigation, I’ve begun to realize that the term “Ethically Ambiguous” is probably a more suitable description.
Here’s a snippet from the press release issued from Center for Democracy & Technology regarding the formal complaint they filed against HotSpot Shield.
Considering the 500 million+ users who rely on HotSpot Shield for their online security, the CDT’s 14 page filing has some serious implications.
Although David Gorodyansky has called these claims “Unfounded” and stated that he “Does not agree” with the filing, the facts do not seem to be in his favor.
Until the FTC concludes its formal investigation, I can neither confirm nor deny these accusations, however, I will say that I would be astonished if HotSpot Shield leaves this battle without a few scars.
Pricing: Free and Paid Options
How much does Hotspot Shield VPN cost?
HotSpot Shield offers two basic versions of their service: HotSpot Shield Free and HotSpot Shield Elite.
For the purposes of this review, I will only be discussing the features and performance of the paid HotSpot Shield Elite, however, if you want to learn more about the performance, user experience, and limitations of their free service, you can click here for a more comprehensive review.
As far as paid VPN providers go, HotSpot Shield’s pricing is definitely on the more expensive side of the spectrum.
In fact, at $5.99 a month for their 12-month package, they are only a couple of dollars cheaper than our favorite VPN of 2019, ExpressVPN. You can read ExpressVPN review here.
The only difference between each plan is the length of time for which you can use HotSpot Shield’s VPN services.
Here’s how their different pricing plans break down.
- $12.99 per month
- $155.88 per year
- 0% Savings
6 Months: $53.94
- $8.99 per month
- $107.96 per year
- 30% Savings
12 Months: $71.88
- $5.99 per month
- $71.88 per year
- 53% Savings
Although their plans are a little pricey, they are all backed by a generous 45-day money back guarantee, which is the best guarantee that I’ve ever seen in the VPN industry.
From what I have read around the web, this refund is pretty painless to collect meaning that if you do try out HotSpot Sheld’s premium VPN services and decide that they aren’t for you, you can quickly receive your money and continue your search for the perfect VPN provider.
Pros of Using HotSpot Shield +
1. Fastest Speed (Except in the U.S.)
On the right servers, HotSpot Shield is fast.
In fact, when I tested HotSpot Shield on an EU server in Estonia, they performed faster than any other VPN that I’ve ever tested.
I connected to several other servers and ran a few tests using the third party website, speedtest.net to ensure the accuracy of this review.
Here are the performance benchmarks I recorded while using HotSpot Shield’s VPN client on a 100 Mbps internet connection.
- Ping: 183ms
- Download: 28.66 Mbps
- Upload: 13.74 Mbps
- Ping: 54ms
- Download: 92.28 Mbps
- Upload: 45.09 Mbps
Asia Server (Hong Kong)
- Ping: 141ms
- Download: 80.00 Mbps
- Upload: 19.60 Mbps
- Ping: 53ms
- Download: 95.55 Mbps
- Upload: 46.45 Mbps
*As always take these speed tests with a grain of salt since they rely on so many different variables and can change from person to person. However, we have tested over 30 VPNs for this site so we have a baseline that we can compare every VPN against.
If you have read any of the other VPN reviews I’ve done on this site, then you know that these results are impressive, really impressive.
HotSpot Shield regularly performed about 10 Mbps faster than any of their competitors on all European and Asian servers.
Oddly enough, HotSpot Shield’s United States servers inexplicably ran at speeds that were almost twice as slow as their competitors even though the company is based in San Francisco!
If you plan on using servers primarily located in the European Union or Asia, then HotSpot Shield is the fastest VPN that’s currently available.
2. Incredible User Experience
Despite my personal distaste of AnchorFree and their less-than-ethical practices, I’ve gotta hand it to them…
They created the most beautifully designed VPN that I have ever used.
After a 2-minute installation process, you are taken to a software that looks like something out of a new James Bond movie where you can adjust your settings and VPN location with ease.
While they don’t offer much in terms of advanced settings or customization (which I’ll talk about in the ‘cons’ section), what they do have is an incredibly simple, intuitive, and easy to use VPN software.
3. Torrenting is Fully Supported
One of the great things about HotSpot Shield is that, unlike some of their competitors, they completely and wholeheartedly support anonymous torrenting.
Their network uses a super secure AES-256 Encryption to ensure that all of the data being transmitted to and from your device is completely secure… From everyone (except AnchorFree).
Governments, ISP’s, nosey neighbors, so long as HotSpot Shield upholds their logging policy, none of them can access any of your browsing history or network activity.
Since AnchorFree openly endorses and even gives instructions on anonymous torrenting, it’s safe to say that HotSpot Shield Elite is an excellent choice for the more avid torrenters.
4. Netflix Compatible (For Now)
Although their Netflix compatibility is subject to change on a minute by minute basis, as of Decmber 2017, HotSpot Shield does work with Netflix on U.S. based servers.
Streaming Netflix with HotSpot Shield is slightly more complicated than it is with ExpressVPN or StrongVPN, however, if you follow the directions on their site you can still find a server that will work.
Cons of Using HotSpot Shield –
1. Questionable Privacy and Logging Policies
We’ve already talked about the CDT filing and FTC investigation that HotSpot Shield is currently fighting, but these issues are just the tip of the iceberg.
AnchorFree is openly associated with a number of third-party advertising companies who make HotSpot Shield free possible.
“Hotspot Shield does not share any personal information about you with advertisers. Nevertheless, advertisers may be able to collect certain information independently from you or your device when serving ads from the Hotspot Shield application …”
Even if you ignore, the fact that the term “personal information” is intentionally ambiguous throughout their policy and apparently does not include your personal IP address, this is a fairly worrisome statement.
A CSIRO study concluded that HotSpot Shield uses tracking codes to gather information about their user’s and then sells this information to advertisers.
They also found that HotSpot Shield would regularly redirect user traffic through one of their affiliate networks in order to profit from purchases that their customers made while using the VPN.
Even though their logging policy offers some reassurance by stating that:
“…all browsing information or other similar information relating to your online activities transmitted by you to our servers when using Hotspot Shield is cleared after your VPN “session” is closed.”
I’m hard-pressed to say that I trust HotSpot Shield with my personal data.
2. Ticketed Customer Support
It is abundantly clear to me that all of HotSpot Shield’s resources have been funneled into only three things.
- Creating a stellar list of servers that perform at lightning fast speeds
- Designing a beautiful user interface
As you’ll notice, great customer service isn’t on that list.
While HotSpot Shield offers an admittedly exhaustive list of troubleshooting resources and guides, their customer support team is all but nonexistent.
If you are having an issue, the only way to get in contact with their support team is through the dreaded support ticket.
And once your ticket has been submitted?
You should probably go and pour yourself another cup of coffee and sit back with a good book because you will be waiting for a long, long, long time.
I tried submitting a technical support query for this review three days before I started writing this post.
Much to my chagrin… I still haven’t received a reply!
After skimming through some other reviews, I found that this experience was pretty ubiquitous.
In fact, I read several customer complaints claiming that it took HotSpot Shield more than one week to respond to a simple troubleshooting error.
Considering the hefty price tag associated with their Elite VPN service, this is a very considerable offense.
3. OpenVPN Only and No TOR Compatibility
With a user base that is as large and diverse as the one boasted by HotSpot Shield, you would imagine that they would create a product that is equally diverse and adaptable to any need or circumstance.
Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Not only does HotSpot Shield not offer compatibility with The Orion Router or any other third party proxies (an incredibly useful feature in draconian countries like China and North Korea), but they limit all users to the OpenVPN protocol.
Although OpenVPN is my default VPN protocol it’s not an all-in-one solution.
Considering that they have more than 500 million users, you would think HotSpot Shield would offer at least a few other VPN protocols for those rare (but inevitable) instances in which OpenVPN simply won’t cut it.
Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case.
How to Use HotSpot Shield VPN
You can get started by either signing up for the Elite plan straight away or by installing the free version to test drive first.
Click Free Download and Hotspot Shield will automatically detect which device you’re using and automatically recommend the right app. Go ahead and begin the download when ready.
Click Install to kick off an installation process similar to all of the other software programs you’re used to by now.
Once you have installed, you can choose to start a 7-day free trial if you’d like to see the entire unrestricted experience (which will require you to put your credit card down).
Otherwise, you can connect to a server with the free HotSpot Shield by clicking on the slider next to where it says: disconnected.
That will connect you instantly and your VPN client will now display your location-of-choice, along with some helpful usage stats to highlight current performance of that server.
Unfortunately, with the free account, you can’t change servers. You’ll just get stuck with whatever location it chooses for you. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re only trying to create a secure, protected connection while sitting at the local coffee shop.
Server choice really becomes a big deal when you’re trying to bypass the aforementioned government restrictions, for example. Taking them up on the free trial offer to upgrade to the Elite account will let you manually connect to other servers in other countries if that’s the case.
How to Refund and Cancel HotSpot Shield Service
To cancel HotSpot Shield service, simply log in to your account (https://account.hotspotshield.com/), then click on “Manage Profile”.
From there you need to click on “Subscriptions”:
And then you’ll need to cancel your service.
For some odd reason, HotSpot shield had activate 2 different payments for my account. I had to cancel both of them. So if you’re facing similar “error”, simply log in to your account once more and cancel the other subscription as well.
After cancelling the account, you’ll be locked out immediately. Meaning you won’t be able to use their services till the end of billing period.
Do I Recommend HotSpot Shield?
The answer to this question is complicated.
As a service, HotSpot Shield is superb.
They offer lighting fast speeds, an incredible user experience, and plenty of great features to keep any VPN enthusiast happy.
The company behind the service has been involved in so many shady dealings and ethically grey activities that it’s hard for me to give my seal of approval, especially considering the current CDT allegations.
If you are looking for a high-quality VPN, then you need look no further than HotSpot Shield.
But if you are looking for a high-quality VPN provider that you can trust, then I recommend that you keep on looking because, as a wise man once said, “These are not the droids you’re looking for”.
HotSpot Shield Pros
- Fast download and upload speeds
- Great user experience
- Netflix compatible and Torrenting is allowed
HotSpot Shield Cons
- FTC Investigation
- High price tag
- Questionable advertising and logging practices
- Terrible customer service
- OpenVPN Only
Add your own review below
Have you ever used HotSpot Shield before? If so, what was your experience like? I’m always interested to hear what other enthusiasts have to say about the VPNs that I review! Let me know below.
23 user reviews for HotSpot Shield
Perfect VPN!! Supports many countries, supports American Netflix (here in Canada), is very fast, and for a good cost. I would 100% recommend it to anyone who wants a good VPN.
Be very wary of HotSpot shield
I have had so many problems getting rid of Hotspot shield. First, when it came time to renew and I did not want to renew it, it hijacked my screen forcing me to put in my payment info. The only way I could stop it was through task manager and shutting down the application.
Then after I cancelled about 7 months later I see charge of 35 dollars for hotspot shield which I don’t even have installed. How they got my new visa number I do not know. I’ve never had this happen to me with any other subscriptions. Avoid hotspot shield.
I have been using Hotspot Shield VPN for the past 5 years. I am only using it for home purposes and the experience has been pleasant up to today as I write this review.
It is free to use but you will have to bear with alot of nonsensical ads-popups as you browse through the net when Hotspot Shield is active. It is easy to use and you do not need to have any IT knowledge beforehand. This is a highly recommended Free VPN service for non-IT-based users like me..
Good Free VPN
Like any other freeware HotSpot shield VPN comes with ads, the ads can be quite annoying sometimes, but the VPN itself works quite well.
I use HotSpot Shield VPN on my android (5.1.1) to be able to have access to files/software that are not available in my country. I wouldn’t mind having it open and running 24/7 if there weren’t so many ads every so often. So I still use it only when I need to.
I’d recommend with ad warning.
Not as good as others until you buy the elite version
When I first started using its free version, it was really bad. I couldn’t access almost any website, it was too slow and it always had the same error. I decided to upgrade to the elite version to see if the performance of it improved and it worked just great. It is a good VPN provider but only after you upgrade it to the elite version.
HotSpot Shield has been a lifesaver. Whenever I felt paranoid about my internet service provider or had to access a blocked site at my school HotSpot Shield was there. It’s a great service honestly. You get a good amount of data usage before speeds slow down, which is understandable if you are using free.
Overall had a great experience with HotSpot Shield.
free version is bad, paid is OK 🙂
As a Hotspot Shield user, I have to tell you that I liked the old Hotspot a lot more. I had an elite subscription and 90% of the time the connection was super fast and I knew that my connection and informations are secure. Plus all of the locations were unlocked. Now, after the update I am using the free version and I can say that you have only 1 location and that’s Optimal Location. It’s a lot slower than before, but the interface looks cleaner.
So should you use it, or shouldn’t you?
From my experience I can tell you that if you are going to spend more time using VPN, then buy the elite subscription because the connection is super fast and you have a wide variety of locations.
If you spend very little time using VPN then go with the free plan.
In conclusion you should use Hotspot Shield VPN and buy the elite subscription if you spend a lot of time using VPN, and if you don’t then either go with the free plan or use another free VPN!
Hotspot Shield hits the spot
I have had a mostly positive experience using Hotspot Shield, which I use on Chrome.
When accessing certain sites, all I need to do is click the shield extension icon on my toolbar, then click the button to be connected to the VPN. It’s fast, free and super-easy. There’s a couple of things I’m not too crazy about, though. Sometimes I can’t access certain other sites once I’m connected. I occasionally have trouble accessing Google – though not every time – and some sites repeatedly log me out if I’m connected. Usually, I just have to disconnect and reconnect to get back on track, so it’s a little bit annoying.
That said, I would still absolutely recommend Hotspot Shield, as its positives outweigh those little negatives.
Decent service, a bit slow however
I needed a VPN when I wanted to test my website to see what it would look like in different parts of the world. I was given a 6 month promo code for premium, so I signed up for it. I downloaded it to my mac and it was actually quite easy to setup. However, after setup, the program wouldn’t open, so I restarted my mac and it did. I connected to the nearest server, which was London, just to test, and it worked a treat when I went to look at my IP. I tried different servers and they all worked. The only thing was they were slow, as if a lot of people were using them, which is fair enough for a big company, but with the amount of money they have coming in, they could invest in either faster or more servers.
Apart from that, the program was easy enough to use, and my experience so far has been satisfactory, I still use it now and then.
Free version capped at 500mb
Hotspot VPN has been a good service while remaining free but it could use some improvements.
It does cut out a bit but half the time asking you to review their app. Eventually you will run out of free data (500MB), encouraging users to pay for the full version. However you can just wait 24 hours for it to reset automatically or simply reinstall the application and start again without paying or waiting. Overall I think it’s a good, free way to have a VPN on your device I would recommend it.
Easy to use
Hotspot Shield VPN is free, or at least the mobile version which is what I use. It’s a great way to get past stupid, unnecessary blocks to some webpages I tend to use. On top of being free, it’s really fast!
Using Hotspot Shield doesn’t slow down my internet connection in the slightest, and it never has any problems loading. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also easy to use. It as the first I tried and I had no idea how to set up a VPN, but it was done extremely quickly.
A good program if you want to keep things simple; “Just connect, get things done and leave the way you came from”
Started using since 2010 and never really needed any other. May slow down the internet speed just a bit (depending on where you are) but it’s expected when it comes to VPN software. If you don’t want to think much about what software to use, then this is a good instant choice.
HotSpot Shield VPN all the way
We had restricted access to social sites on our college Wi-fi, which was such a pain. The Wi-fi had this Fotinet Firewall to do the job. Tried almost every VPN available in the Play Store and none worked as fast and hassle free as the HotSpot Shield and that too for free. Still going strong after 2 years on my Android and Windows alike.
Out of the many ones out there the one VPN app that bagged my trust was HotSpot Shield. Not only because it offers truly unlimited private access but also because it is very fast. Privacy is at no risk and you are safe.
Unblocked sites and Torrents on the go :).
Just a regular vpn, for limited use
I used hotspot shield, it worked well, but it lacks some features like more data and better download speed. I really liked it but now I use other vpn because the download speed is slow and it is not providing best connection. Sometimes the webpages wouldn’t even load or the app would crash. Also I heard this vpn tracks your browsing history, and I don’t like to be followed because it’s my private session, that’s why I use a vpn.
With all that said, the VPN worked, but it was not enough for me because I want a fast and reliable vpn that can keep up with me.
Gurbaksh Singh Gabbi
HotSpot shield provides a good VPN service
I’m using HotSpot shield VPN since 3 months. It provides a good service as it provides so much servers to choose from.
It also gives a free trial period with limited servers. So anyone can try it out. We don’t need it to regularly open and start, it automatically starts. I will give it 4 out of 5.
Looking for a shield from your ISP, use Hotspot Shield..
Have been using Hotspot Shield for a year now. I can say I’m completely satisfied with the unlimited version. It does not compromise the speed of my network as well as protects my privacy.
The desktop application is user friendly, a single push of button establishes the VPN connection. The time taken to connect to Hotspot Shield server is also very short.
Hotspot shield VPN is full of ads
Hotspot shield takes a lot of time to just connect, then after 2 minutes or so it attempts to reconnect. So if I am downloading any file, it just fails. Also it installs some weird adware and pops up ads even if the app is closed.The connection slows down after I used 25MB. Therefore overall performance is poor and I would not prefer people using hotspot shield vpn…
In my opinion, it's one of the best
This is the best VPN among the numerous ones I’ve used. Hotspot shield makes it really easy to connect to the servers and also as an awesome free quota, which doesn’t degrade the speed (Perfect for testing it out). I’ve been using it for months and have not faced any considerable slowdowns yet. Server switching is really easy and the interface is really intuitive, making it a VPN to be reckoned with.
Kim So Bon
User in China
Definitely worth your money if you’re into movies like me. (I can no watch restricted movies).
Fast & Reliable
HotSpot Shield has been one of my favourite tools, since I understood that BetterNet doesn’t actually provide that level of privacy. I’m a travelling blogger, therefore I take my anonymity seriously. Last year, while travelling to Europe, I had a problem with connecting to an U.S. server, but I contacted the customer support section and they helped me out with the issue.
One of the U.S. servers was re-booting or something similar. It was just me trying to connect to the server at an unlucky time. Other than that, never have I ever had issues with HotSpotShield. Hands down, I would recommend their product!
Elite option user
I’m using Hotspot Shield Elite option which allows me to browse with different IPs across 20+ countries.
It works flawlessly on my Windows and I cannot recommend this software enough.
It’s the worst VPN I’ve used so far. Speed is too slow and sometimes it’s not opening.
I’m using Windows 10.