In the current market where the awareness and need for online privacy and security is growing, there are dozens of VPN providers to choose from.
Most of these services offer a desktop VPN and often include a version of their software that works as a web browser extension. Some of these providers only offer their service as a browser extension.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the differences between a VPN browser extension and a desktop VPN. We’ll also help you decide which of these two options you should use to best fit your needs.
What Is a Desktop VPN?
A desktop VPN is essentially a standalone VPN application. To use one, you’ll need to sign up with the service, then download and install their app. This has to be done before you’ll be able to safely browse the internet.
The primary advantage of using a desktop VPN is that, once you’re connected to a VPN server, all of your online traffic will be protected. Everything you do on the internet when you’re using your VPN will pass through an encrypted connection, protecting your data and maintaining your privacy.
Desktop VPNs generally do not decrease internet speeds by a significant amount. This is great for those who want to use their VPN while playing online games or streaming TV and movies. You should notice little to no decrease in speed, which makes for a great streaming experience.
Additionally, desktop VPNs usually have a zero-logs policy. This means that the company offering the VPN has committed to not tracking your internet activity and not keeping any records regarding what you use your internet connection for. This policy further protects your privacy and allows you to maintain a sense of trust towards your VPN provider.
One downside to desktop VPNs is that they’re usually paid services. That being said, they’re relatively inexpensive, especially when you take advantage of their long-term plans. For a few dollars per month, you’re able to protect yourself online and you can be assured that your internet security is in the hands of a reputable company that does not keep logs on your browsing habits.
If you don’t want to pay for a VPN service or you want to try using a VPN before committing long-term, most of them offer free trials. If you’re not willing to pay, there are some free options available, but these are generally less reliable and less trustworthy than paid services. Some of them only allow you to route a certain amount of data through their servers every month. Others do not make clear their policies on keeping logs of your data. Unlike paid VPNs, there isn’t an overt and immediate source of revenue among freemium VPNs.
That said, if you do decide to use a free VPN service, some of the better options are:
- Hotspot Shield VPN (though Hotspot Shield has had privacy issues in the past)
- TunnelBear VPN
What Is a VPN Browser Extension?
You’re probably already familiar with browser extensions, but if you’re not they’re fairly easy to explain. As their name would suggest, browser extensions are add-ons to your web browser that give it additional functionality. These can range from ad blockers to automatic coupon code checkers to extensions that save articles for you to read later.
In addition to the above examples, some browser extensions work as VPNs. They route your internet traffic through a VPN server and encrypt your connection just like a desktop VPN. The difference is that when using a VPN browser extension, only your internet activity on the browser on which the extension is installed will be protected.
For example, if you primarily use Google Chrome as your web browser and you install the VPN browser extension on it, all of your internet activity on Chrome will be protected by the VPN. If you decide to use a different browser, you will need to install the VPN extension on the new browser as well.
This means that your other internet activity will be left unprotected. If you’re using an internet-enabled app like a game launcher or an email app, your connection will not be encrypted. This can leave your personal information vulnerable to hackers, including your physical location.
VPN browser extensions are usually free, which gives them an advantage over most desktop VPNs, but there is a trade-off. VPN browser extensions are typically slower and less secure than desktop VPNs. Some of them do not actually encrypt your connection but instead function as a proxy, which only masks your location and leaves your data vulnerable.
VPN browser extensions often do not have zero-logs policies. Many of them purposely track your browsing habits and sell the information to third-party companies. This is how they make up for not charging their users.
Desktop VPNs vs VPN Browser Extensions
Now that we’ve highlighted the important points about these two forms of VPNs, it’s time to compare the two to see which is better. To start, it’s important to note that both options protect your online identity. Desktop VPNs and most VPN browser extensions encrypt your internet connection and mask your true location.
There are some key differences between these two options though. One difference is that desktop VPNs protect all of your online traffic. This includes data that passes through your web browser as well as through game launchers, email apps and any other internet-enabled application on your computer. VPN browser extensions only protect the data that passes through the web browser on which the application is installed.
Desktop VPNs are often more reliable and faster than VPN browser extensions. Their servers are more regularly maintained and are generally of higher quality, allowing them to provide secure, consistent connections with minimal reductions in internet speeds. The same cannot be said for VPN browser extensions.
Desktop VPNs are usually not free, contrary to VPN browser extensions. They typically cost around $10 per month, but the monthly price is reduced if you sign up for one of their long-term plans. They also usually offer free trials, so you can try the service before committing to purchasing one of their plans.
Which One Should You Use?
Given the information we’ve discussed, the choice should be clear between a desktop VPN and a VPN browser extension. If you are concerned about your online privacy and the security of your data, you should use a desktop VPN service.
For a relatively low price, you’ll be able to use an encrypted connection to connect to quality, reliable VPN servers and know that your data is not being logged. Desktop VPN providers often allow more than one device to be connected at once, so you’ll be able to protect all of your devices with a single account, further protecting your data.
In addition, there are many desktop VPN service providers on the market, so there’s likely one that has features that exactly match your needs. Information about what they provide will be easily found on their website, and their apps are usually easy to use and quick to set up.
All of this being said, VPN browser extensions should not be completely ruled out. If your only need for a VPN is to hide your true location, a VPN browser extension can accomplish this for free. Using this same feature, they can also help you to access content that is not available in your country.
Desktop VPNs are the best choice for security and privacy online. VPN browser extensions simply cannot compete despite usually being free.
While desktop VPNs require a monthly payment, this is likely a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes along with an encrypted internet connection, a masked location and a zero-logs policy.