PureVPN review: Shocking PcWorld Investigation

By Contributor, PCWorld | Aug 25, 2017 1:10 PM PT

Here’s the thing about VPNs: They’re built on trust. Before you pay a company to secure your internet traffic you need to trust that it’ll do what it claims. That’s what makes this review so interesting. PureVPN is a solid service with good speeds, and the right promises in its privacy policy.

But a number of PureVPN’s servers aren’t where they claim to be. The service is using what are known as virtual servers, which means a server that is supposed to be in the U.S. might actually be in Europe.

PureVPN has a refund policy, but be careful. It’s only good within seven days of your order or renewal date; you cannot use more than 3GB of bandwidth (that’s cumulative up and down); or exceed 100 VPN sessions.

PureVPN’s overall average speed score was 31 percent of the internet connection’s base speed at the time of testing. That’s not bad and puts it in the same league with NordVPN and TunnelBear. As mentioned earlier, some of these servers may not have been where they claimed to be when I ran the speed tests. That said, the speed test did identify each server in its supposed location with a corresponding test server.

As for the app itself, it’s a little laggy. I found that it would often freeze up or stall my system for a second, with that disappearing taskbar annoyance you sometimes see in Windows. This often happened for common operations such as minimizing the app to the system tray, or disconnecting from the VPN.

Privacy, anonymity, and trust

PureVPN recently came under scrutiny for running virtual servers that aren’t really in the location they appear to be in.

In July, the website RestorePrivacy published a blog post looking at both ExpressVPN and PureVPN, reporting that several of the server locations for these services were not where they claimed to be.

RestorePrivacy found five virtual server locations for PureVPN. Based on the site’s work, I ran some of my own tests on PureVPN servers, and I ended up with similar results, meaning there are quite a few more virtual locations than five. Servers in Ohio, for example, appeared to be closer to Vienna, Austria. While a server that was supposed to be in war-torn Syria was almost certainly in Frankfurt, Germany, and servers supposedly in mainland China (Beijing and Shanghai) were probably in Hong Kong.

I say “probably” and “almost certainly” because without going to a data center to see the physical servers, we have to rely on ping tests and traceroutes as detailed in the RestorePrivacy post. Based on those tests, you can get a really good sense of where these servers are.

Why, for example, does PureVPN’s Ohio server location take 94 milliseconds to hit a server in New York City, but only 9ms to connect to Vienna? Because the physical servers are closer to Vienna than New York.

That sounds bad, but is all this enough to not trust PureVPN and the other services that also use virtual location servers? Maybe, but here’s the thing. Those virtual location servers still behave like they’re in the country they claim to be, serving up the appropriate location-based webpages.

I asked the company why it felt virtual servers were a good thing for its users, but at this writing the company had not responded.

PureVPN is based in Hong Kong, which the company says is helpful since the semi-autonomous Chinese territory does not have mandatory data retention laws. PureVPN users should watch political events in Hong Kong closely, however, as this could change over time.

PureVPN’s mailing address is listed on its website on the contact page as GZ Systems Limited, 36/F, Tower Two, Times Square, 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. This address is either a virtual location via some kind of mailing service, or a shared office space, as a number of other companies use the same address. GZ Systems Limited is the company that owns and operates PureVPN.

PureVPN doesn’t list its team on its website, but a little searching shows Uzair Gadit is the company’s co-founder and CEO. He also appears to be based in Pakistan—as does my PR contact—suggesting the company’s day-to-day operations may not be handled in Hong Kong.

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