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Google VPN vs. VPN Service: Which is better for privacy?

· 13 min read
Boxing Competition - Google VPN vs. dedicated VPN service.

We are all aware that keeping our online activity private and secure is crucial nowadays. Which is a better option for online privacy, Google VPN or a dedicated VPN service? In this article, we will examine what Google One VPN has to offer, how it compares to a dedicated VPN company, and what the best option is for protecting your online privacy.

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What is Google One VPN?

Google's VPN is a part of their “Google One” subscription service and also as pat of their Google Fi phone service offering.  According to Google, their VPN promises to encrypt your traffic and keep your browsing activity private. They also say that their VPN will help you stay safe on public Wi-Fi networks, and that it can shield from hackers and hide your real IP address. So far, so good. But what about the actual security and privacy features?

Google VPN - Image credit: Google

Is Google One VPN a true VPN?

There is much debate surrounding the topic of whether Google One VPN is a true VPN. Some say that because Google uses the same encryption standard as most VPN services, it can be trusted as a VPN.

However, even if Google states that:

Some minimum logging is performed to ensure quality of service, but your network traffic or IP associated with the VPN is never logged.

This is still worrisome for privacy-conscious users. Usually, people use VPNs to avoid being tracked by big companies, with Google being one of them. Using Google's VPN defeats the purpose of using a VPN in the first place.

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Is Google One VPN truly private?

Google's business model is to make money by engaging in data collection practices, tracking internet users and using their data to sell advertising. We know that Google search relies heavily on the company's ability to understand, track and predict user intent and context.

Google is doing this by tracking their user's internet traffic and behavior across the internet. If you land on a website that shows Google Ads, you are tracked by Google and their partners. If you use their search engine, the same thing continues to happen there.

When you use Google's VPN, this tracking process does not stop. What their VPN is doing is to prevent others from tracking you, but they are free to continue to do it.

In this context, I cannot say that the VPN by Google One is truly private.

Is Google VPN a real VPN?

From a technical standpoint, the service can be described as a VPN service. It creates a secure tunnel and then encrypts the data that is transferred, and it does it with minimal use tracking.

Benefits of using Google VPN Service

In a sense, Google VPN offers the same basic benefits like any other VPN company. It offers basic protection from anyone trying to track or spy on your online activity. This is especially important when you're using public Wi-Fi networks.

Additionally, Google's VPN may help you access blocked websites and content, but there is no guarantee about this feature. This is because it can mask your IP address and make it appear as if you're accessing the internet from a different location. This can be helpful if you're trying to access geo-blocked content or bypass censorship in your country.

Moreover, compared to a free VPN, Google's offering is a lot more compelling and a lot better. If you were to choose between a free VPN, no VPN or Google VPN when using a public Wi-Fi, Google is definitely the better choice.

Lastly, the Google VPN is fast. Very fast! The service does seem optimized for speed and once you turn it on, you may not even notice that the VPN is routing your traffic.

Unsecured connections v. VPN Connections
Unsecured vs. VPN Connection. Credit: Google


Disadvantages of Google One VPN

At it's core, Google's offering is very basic. While it makes it straightforward to activate your VPN, it also lacks advanced features found in other VPN applications. There is no way to pick a specific server or location, and their service works only on phones and tablets. You cannot use this service on a computer.

Another major disadvantage of Google One VPN is that it doesn't offer the same level of privacy as some other VPN providers. Google has access to all the data that passes through their servers, which means that your privacy could be compromised if Google were to ever hand over this information to a third party.

We know from experience that VPN companies, when pressured, will hand over the data they have about their users. Some VPN companies simply do a poor job at securing their users' data! This makes it critical to know who you're trusting with your internet activity and personal information.

A VPN should never log any of its users' data, but sadly many do. They collect this data to sell it to third-party advertisers or government agencies like the NSA.

That's why we always recommend choosing a VPN that's based outside the US and UK, such as ExpressVPN, which has no data retention policies and does not log any of your personal information.

Another disadvantage of using Google One VPN is that it doesn't offer as many features as some other available VPNs. For example, you can't select which Google VPN server you want to connect to, nor can you change any of the settings or options. This can make it difficult to find the best possible connection for your needs.

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Why a dedicated VPN company is better than Google VPN

  1. A good VPN company provides a multitude of ways to use the VPN – applications for multiple operating systems, various devices. From phones, routers, streaming devices to browser plugins and custom applications for specialized uses.
  2. A reliable VPN will put online privacy at it's core and provides a lot more than just a secure tunnel for your data to travel. For example, SurfShark can block trackers, ads, and malware. Something Google will never provide.
  3. A well-rounded VPN offering will also include advance settings for even more privacy protection. Rotating IPs, the choice of the VPN protocol, kill switch, auto-connection at system startup and many other settings that will let you fine-tune your VPN experience.
  4. A serious VPN will also enable you to unlock experiences that are only accessible to people living in different geographical locations. While Google's VPN may have this ability, Google states that they do not actually support this feature.
  5. A safe VPN will also make sure to adhere to strict no-logging policies. ExpressVPN, Mullvad, Surfshark and many other VPN companies pay for third-party audits to make sure these policies are applied and preserved.

Good alternatives to Google One VPN

Let's take a brief look at some companies that have proven, in time, that they are reliable, trustworthy and great VPN providers.

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Google VPN vs. The Competition

We're now going to compare Google VPN with the best VPN out there currently: ExpressVPN, Surfshark and NordVPN.

VPN Pricing

Since Google VPN can only be used as part of the Google One or Google Fi offering, it's hard to put a price on their offering. With the other VPNs, it's easier to compare the pricing. This comparison considers the current VPN offers that all these companies offer at this time.

The only plan that offers a VPN from Google One is the most expensive one. The Premium plan. If you purchase the annual plan, it comes to $8.3 / month and it also includes 2 TB of online storage.

Surfshark offers 24 months (2 years) deal that comes down to $2.49/month.

NordVPN offers a 24+3 months deal that comes down to $3.69/month.

ExpressVPN offers a 12+3 free months deal that comes down to $6.67/month.

Winner: Surfshark – $2.49 / month (2 Years Deal)

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No-logs policy

All Google's competitors offer true no-logs policies. They have a slight edge compared to Google, since they do not collect aggregated data from their users.

Winners: Surfshark, ExpressVPN, NordVPN

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Servers

The more servers a company has, and the more locations, the better their service is from both a privacy and travel perspective. If you travel and the company has servers nearby, your VPN experience will be an excellent one.

Google does not offer a specific number of servers or countries that are available for their VPN service. We do know, however, that Google has an extensive network of datacenters and their connectivity is exceptional. Based on my tests, their VPN is extremely fast. However, there is no guarantee that all those servers in their datacenters will be used to provide for the VPN infrastructure. In this case, since we do not have a specific number of servers, we will not include them when comparing the number of servers.

Surfshark offers, 3200+ servers in 99 countries.

NordVPN offers 5538 servers in 59 countries.

ExpressVPN does not disclose the number of servers, but they do mention they have servers in 94 countries.

While both the number of servers and the covered countries are important, having a good balance between the two is more important in this case.

Winner: Surfshark – 3200+ servers in 99 countries. It offers the best balance between servers and covered locations.

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Encryption

Encryption is one key component that a VPN offers you. The stronger the encryption, the harder it will be for anyone to break it and spy on your online activities. All dedicated VPN companies disclose information about their encryption strength except Google. This comes at no surprise. Google is quite opaque in disclosing a lot of information about their offering, which in my view, makes it very suspicious.

Surfshark offers AES 256 GCM encryption, which is a high level of security. This means that your data will be safe when transmitted over the internet.

NordVPN uses AES with 256-bit keys, which they claim is recommended by the NSA for securing classified information.

ExpressVPN uses the same type of encryption, and they also claim that the US government has adopted this standard to protect their top secret documents.

Winners: Surfshark, ExpressVPN, NordVPN

Streaming Support

When I refer to “streaming support”, I mean a dedicated setup on the VPN company's side to allow you to stream content from different countries by just using your VPN. This can let you watch BBC iPlayer content from the US or use your Netflix or Amazon Prime account when traveling in Asia or Europe.

In this case, Google suggest they do not offer this feature at all, while all the other companies support this feature more or less. I used all of them while traveling in Europe, and I was able to stream both Netflix and Amazon Prime content when using their services.

Winners: Surfshark, ExpressVPN, NordVPN

Split Tunneling

I have written a dedicated article about the split-tunneling feature, and I consider this feature to be essential when using a VPN. Google does not offer any advanced VPN capabilities. This feature is simply missing from their offering.

Surfshark and NordVPN offer this, but only for Android and Windows.

ExpressVPN offers this on Windows, Mac (with limited support) and Android.

Winner: ExpressVPN

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Supported Platforms

Being able to use the VPN service on a multitude of devices is crucial. Google offers their VPN for Android and iOS only. That's just two platforms.

Surfshark has applications for: Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, FireTV, Browser Extensions (Edge, Chrome, Firefox), Smart TVs (Apple TV, Android TV, Samsung TV), gaming consoles (Xbox, PlayStation) and they also offer support for certain routers.

NordVPN has a similar offering, but they also add support for Oculus Quest, Raspberry Pi and Nintendo Switch.

ExpressVPN, on the other hand, offers apps for Linux and IoT devices.

Winner: NordVPN – it offers a huge number of applications for a multitude of platforms.

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Can you change your location with Google One VPN?

Unfortunately, it is not possible to change your location with Google One VPN. While changing the VPNs location is a basic feature offered by all the VPN companies I have used and tested so far, Google makes it difficult to find out the location of the VPN server in use.

Can you stream Netflix or Amazon Prime when traveling with Google VPN?

Similar to the answer for the previous questions, it depends on which country you are trying to connect from. If you are attempting to connect from a country where those services are available, then yes, you can stream Netflix or Amazon Prime when traveling with Google VPN. The available catalog may be different from the one in your home country, but you will still be able to watch movies and TV series.

However, if you are attempting to connect from a country where those services are not available, then no, you will not be able to stream Netflix or Amazon Prime when traveling with Google VPN.

Is Google VPN usable on a computer?

No, you cannot use Google VPN to protect your computers. Currently, they only offer applications for Android and iOS devices.

Can You Trust Google VPN With Your Private Data?

My personal view is that you cannot trust anyone to protect your privacy, and you need to do everything you can do make sure nobody takes advantage of it.

I also realize that we live in a world where we need to use various services to carry on with our daily tasks and responsibilities.

With this in mind, here's my take on this issue:

  1. For Google One users, I would say, feel free to use the VPN from them if you don't have a better alternative. Chances are, Google already knows about you enough.  But the keyword here is “if you don't have” an alternative.
  2. For iOS users, I would not recommend Google's VPN because it will just give Google more insight into your usage patterns. I would either use Apple's private relay, or use a dedicated VPN.

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Is Google VPN worth it?

If you already pay for Google One because you need a storage service, a cloud storage, or for other various reasons, I think it's worth using the VPN. Especially for the privacy and security features you get when using a public Wi-Fi connection.

However, I would not subscribe to Google One or Google Fi for that matter, just for the VPN capabilities.

Conclusion

VPNs are becoming more important than ever, and they are an effective first step to keep your data and browsing safe. However, I do not recommend placing your trust in Google or any other large corporation to provide privacy tools for you. They are the first one to break promises, and you will end up tracked and monitored by them. However, Google VPN could be a basic, short-term privacy and security solution if you don't have access to a proper VPN.