These 7 Companies Secretly Own Dozens of VPNs
I discovered that a handful of big tech companies secretly own dozens of popular VPNs. Find out how I traced the surprising connections between 44 VPN brands. Share
I dug deep into the corporate world of VPNs to find out which companies dominate the VPN market. The results of my research were surprising.
I discovered that a handful of businesses secretly own an astonishing number of VPNs. I was able to trace 44 VPN brands back to just seven companies.
Even more concerning is that so many of these companies aren’t transparent with consumers about which products they own.
As tech companies around the world race to take advantage of the growing VPN market, it’s more important than ever to be aware of who owns the VPN you use.
Shockingly, many VPNs can be traced to parent companies in China and Pakistan, raising concerns about international data retention laws.
I’m going to tell you what I learned about these companies and the VPNs they own. I’m also going to explain how you can find a VPN provider that is truly trustworthy and transparent.
I recommend NordVPN for its speed, top-notch security features, and ease of use.
Why Is This Important?
Market consolidation isn’t always a bad thing. Mergers are common in the fast-moving tech world. There’s also nothing wrong with a big tech company producing multiple VPN products to target different user markets.
But the lack of transparency I discovered from these companies is very concerning. I found multiple VPNs claiming to be headquartered in privacy-friendly countries that secretly have strong connections with parent companies in China and Pakistan.
This raises a big question: if one of these parent companies demands user logs from a VPN it owns that’s based another country, does the VPN have to hand over its records? When VPN companies don’t make this information clear, it’s challenging for consumers to make educated decisions to protect their privacy.
Most of these companies are also doing a terrible job informing consumers about which products they own.
While there’s no issue with companies producing more than one VPN brand, it’s a problem when companies make it look like their VPN products are competitors when in reality they’re not.
Competition between VPNs drives progress and keeps prices down. When one company owns multiple VPN brands, there’s less incentive for the company to improve its VPN because there are fewer VPNs to compete with.
I was also concerned to discover that many VPNs use the same software infrastructure.
That means if the security of one of these VPNs is compromised, all of them could be compromised. This could have devastating consequences for a huge number of users.
When companies don’t value transparency and fail to disclose the connections between all the products they own, it’s hard for consumers to have complete trust in the companies and hold them accountable.
How I Discovered These Connections
I was shocked by how deep I had to dig to discover the relationships between most of these parent companies and their subsidiaries.
In some cases, I could find information about the connections between VPN products on the parent company or subsidiary’s website, but that was pretty rare.
I uncovered many of these relationships by reading through the terms of service and privacy policies for hundreds of VPN developers.
I found other information about company mergers and acquisitions by sorting through old press releases, trademark records, and employee LinkedIn pages.
VPN Market Consolidation
The seven companies on this list own a total of 44 VPNs. Below, I’ll explain these connections company by company.
American tech company AnchorFree released its first VPN service, Hotspot Shield (see our full review), in 2008. If you go by the information on AnchorFree’s official website, it’s easy to think Hotspot Shield is still the only VPN the company owns.
But the reality is a lot more complicated.
Since 2015, AnchorFree has started to quietly absorb more and more VPN products.
AnchorFree first acquired two smaller competitors: JustVPN and TouchVPN. TouchVPN owns a total of three VPN products: Touch VPN, VeePee VPN Proxy, and VPN 360.
In late 2016, AnchorFree also acquired Betternet Technologies, adding three more VPNs to its list: Betternet, VPN in Touch, and Hexatech.
These VPNs don’t make it clear that they’re now owned by AnchorFree, but when you compare the design of the products, the connection is pretty clear.
For example, take a look at the iOS versions of Hotspot Shield and JustVPN side by side:
Despite the obvious visual similarities between the products, there are hardly any mentions of AnchorFree on the websites or any of the promotional materials for JustVPN or TouchVPN.
Overall, AnchorFree owns these eight VPNs:
- Hotspot Shield
- Touch VPN
- Veepee VPN Proxy
- VPN 360
- VPN in Touch
2. j2 Global
j2 Global is another American company that has gotten involved in the VPN world in a major way.
The tech giant offers a variety of cloud and digital media services. It also owns quite a few big brands, including IGN, PCMag, Speedtest, Offers.com, and Mashable.
The company officially claims to own three VPNs: IPVanish, StrongVPN, and Encrypt.me, previously known as Cloak.
j2 Global got its first VPN brands when it acquired StackPath in 2019. This created some concerns about a conflict of interest with the company’s online computer magazine, PCMag, because the site frequently publishes VPN recommendations and reviews.
I noticed that many of PCMag’s VPN articles now have this disclaimer:
After some digging, I discovered that j2 Global is connected to many more VPNs than its website claims. On top of IPVanish (see our full review), StrongVPN, and Encrypt.me, it also owns SaferVPN and OverPlay VPN through its subsidiary NetProtect.
That’s not all. The company also owns WLVPN.com, a white label service that offers VPN infrastructure and strategy services.
Here’s how it works. VPN providers can buy software development kits (SDKs) from WLVPN to help them develop their VPN applications and features.
NetProtect claims that more than 100 businesses use WLVPN’s infrastructure and tools to power their VPNs, including StrongVPN, OverPlay VPN, Encrypt.me, and VPNhub, Pornhub’s VPN service.
I tried to find some of the other VPN providers that use WLVPN’s technology. Most companies aren’t transparent about this, but I was able to dig up some additional examples by looking through VPN companies’ server lists.
I found evidence that Namecheap VPN, Tweaknews VPN, Easynews VPN, and Newshosting VPN all use WLVPN’s technology to power their VPNs.
Overall, j2 Global owns these five VPNs:
- OverPlay VPN
The company also owns the white label service that powers these five VPNs (and likely many more):
- Namecheap VPN
- Tweaknews VPN
- Easynews VPN
- Newshosting VPN
3. Actmobile Networks
American company Actmobile Networks only mentions one VPN service on its official website: Dash VPN.
However, I also found several other VPNs that list Actmobile Networks as their creator: TorrentVPN, Dash Net Accelerated VPN, and VPN On.
Through the company president’s LinkedIn page, I learned that Actmobile Networks also owns the company FreeVPN.org. This company produces Free VPN, VPN Pro + Private Browser, VPN US, Messenger VPN Secure, Video VPN Browser, and a mobile app simply called “VPN.”
Overall, Actmobile Networks owns these 10 VPNs:
- Dash VPN
- Dash Net Accelerated VPN
- VPN On
- Free VPN
- VPN Pro + Private Browser
- VPN US
- Messenger VPN Secure
- Video VPN Browser
4. Kape Technologies
Kape Technologies is based in the Isle of Man, a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea.
Since 2017, Kape Technologies has bought three large VPN services: CyberGhost VPN (see our full review), Zenmate VPN, and Private Internet Access (PIA) via London Trust Media.
The company was formerly known as Crossrider. It switched names in 2018 in an attempt to improve the brand’s image after receiving negative press for its intrusive adware.
Several brands of antivirus software, including Malwarebytes and NortonLIfeLock, flagged Crossrider’s browser extension software as containing high-risk adware. It affected both Windows and macOS computers.
According to Malwarebytes, the adware was secretly bundled with free, seemingly legitimate software to convince users to download the package.
Once installed, the Crossrider used ad injection to display intrusive banner ads and pop-ups. In some cases, it even hijacked Chrome and Firefox browsers and forced them to redirect users’ home pages to ChumSearch, a fake search engine designed to raise ad revenue.
There were even reports that Crossrider tracked users’ browsing history and search queries and used the information to create invasive targeted ad campaigns.
This is even more concerning when you consider that Crossrider’s founder and former CEO Koby Menachemi previously worked for three years as a developer for Unit 8200, Israel’s version of the NSA.
All-in-all, Kape Technologies’ history is pretty disturbing. It’s no wonder that current CEO Ido Erlichman has tried to distance the company from its past association with dangerous adware.
Kape Technologies claims that these bad practices are a thing of the past, and I didn’t find any evidence that this has had a negative impact on the company’s three VPNs. However, I certainly think it’s something to keep a close eye on.
Overall, Kape Technologies owns these three VPNs:
- CyberGhost VPN
- Zenmate VPN
- Private Internet Access (PIA)
Gaditek’s attractive website describes the organization as “a human-centric New Age company” that loves venturing into new markets. Although that all sounds nice, it doesn’t actually tell us very much.
In reality, Gaditek is a Pakistan-based company founded in 2008 that specializes in business IT services and mobile app development.
Gaditek owns two VPN services: PureVPN and Ivacy. This isn’t a huge amount compared to some companies on this list.
However, I found it very interesting that a Pakistani company secretly controls two popular VPNs. Freedom House’s annual internet freedom report has repeatedly given Pakistan a rating of “not free.”
Pakistan practices heavy online censorship. The government blocks residents from accessing websites and social media platforms that express dissenting political opinions. Authorities also frequently disable mobile internet access during large protests or other politically sensitive events.
There are several cases of people being sentenced to death for their social media activity. Some reports suggest that Pakistan has begun targeting human rights defenders with invasive cyberattacks.
The government claims these practices are necessary for national security reasons, but that hasn’t stopped the policies from receiving a lot of criticism, both within Pakistan and internationally.
Pakistan also enforces strict data retention laws. It requires ISPs to keep communication logs for a minimum of one year, or longer if requested by the government.
Pakistani law also makes it extremely easy for authorities to obtain a warrant to access citizens’ private data for almost any reason.
The important question here is this: How much control does Pakistan-based Gaditek have over the VPNs it owns? PureVPN (see our full review) is based in Hong Kong, while Ivacy is located in Singapore.
If the Pakistani government demands VPN traffic logs from Gaditek, would the company be forced to provide that information?
The answer isn’t clear, but either way it’s a worrying thought.
Overall, Gaditek owns these two VPNs:
Czech cybersecurity company Avast produces a popular line of antivirus software, but it now also offers its own VPN service: Avast Secureline VPN.
Avast is transparent about the fact that it also owns the popular VPN HMA (formerly HideMyAss!), but I discovered that Avast also owns two smaller providers: VPNSecure and ZenVPN.
When I ran a search with the email associated with Avast’s website domain, I also found websites for former VPN products Dream VPN and GoldenVPN, which seem to no longer exist. This makes me wonder if Avast might be interested in creating or purchasing more VPN services in the future.
Overall, Avast owns these four VPNs:
- Avast Secureline VPN
- HMA (see our full review)
7. Innovative Connecting
Innovative Connecting (also known as ALL Connected Co.) is a young Singapore-based tech company that specializes in mobile app development.
Its official website contains very little information about the company, but the company’s LinkedIn page says that its product development team is actually based in China!
Innovative Connecting owns a total of seven VPNs. It produces three directly: TurboVPN, VPN Proxy Master, and Solo VPN.
I was also able to connect it to two subsidiary companies: Lemon Clove and Autumn Breeze. Lemon Clove owns SnapVPN and VPN Robot, while Autumn Breeze owns Unlimited Free VPN Monster and Hot VPN (see our full review).
This adds up to a total of seven VPNs, all of which are mobile-only. I was very concerned to discover so many VPNs secretly connected to a development team in China.
Overall, Innovative Connecting owns these seven VPNs:
- VPN Proxy Master
- Solo VPN
- VPN Robot
- Unlimited Free VPN Monster
- Hot VPN
How to Find a Trustworthy VPN
Transparency is the single most important thing to look for in a VPN provider. You have to be able to trust the company that creates and controls your VPN.
After all, if you can’t trust your VPN provider to tell you the truth about its policies and practices, how can you trust it to do the right thing with your private data?
Disclosing its brand ownership and corporate structure is one way that a VPN provider can demonstrate transparency. Your VPN should also make it easy for you to access information about its privacy and data retention policies, the companies it partners with, and which countries’ laws it must comply with.
If you’re looking for a trustworthy VPN with a proven record of transparency, I recommend these two excellent vendors.
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Strict no-logs policy
- Based in privacy-friendly Panama
- Warrant canary
- Ad blocking
- Compatible with: Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Android TV, Linux, BlackBerry, Raspberri Pi, Chrome, Firefox, and some routers
- Unblocks: Netflix, Hulu, HBO, BBC iPlayer, Showtime, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV, and many more
NordVPN is my top VPN recommendation because of its strong security features, lightning-fast speeds, and all around excellent performance. The company also continually demonstrates its commitment to transparency.
NordVPN’s thorough privacy statement confirms its strict zero-logging policy. It’s also headquartered in privacy-friendly Panama, outside the surveillance of the Fourteen Eyes Alliance.
On its website, it publishes a regularly updated warrant canary clearly stating that NordVPN has full control of its entire infrastructure and has never willingly disclosed user data of any kind.
The VPN secures your private data with robust encryption to protect you from spying eyes. The CyberSec suite offers protection from trackers, malware, and botnet control, as well as adblocking.
You can also take advantage of NordVPN’s specialty servers for double encryption and Onion over VPN for guaranteed anonymity.
NordVPN’s huge network of 5,300+ servers in 59 countries also includes dedicated P2P servers optimized for torrenting.
With unlimited data and bandwidth, you can torrent and stream as much as you want. NordVPN can unlock 400+ geo-restricted streaming platforms, including Netflix and HBO.
The VPN is compatible with all major platforms, including Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, BlackBerry, Routers, Raspberry Pi, and Android TV. It also offers secure browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. You can connect up to six simultaneous devices, which is great for families.
If you run into any problems, you can reach out to NordVPN’s responsive 24/7 live chat support. You can try it out risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Want to know more about NordVPN? Check out our in-depth review.
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Strict no-logs policy
- Based in privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands
- Independent security audit
- Compatible with: Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Android TV, Linux, BlackBerry, Raspberri Pi, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Smart TVs, Kindle Fire, Nook, gaming consoles, and many routers
- Unblocks: Netflix, Hulu, HBO, BBC iPlayer, Showtime, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV, DAZN, and more
ExpressVPN is another vendor that’s proven its dedication to earning your trust through its actions. One way it demonstrated its commitment to transparency was by releasing the full results of an independent security audit of its browser extension.
ExpressVPN hired reputable cybersecurity firm Cure53 to review its browser extensions for potential vulnerabilities and safety risks. Besides publishing the full results of the security audit, ExpressVPN also open-sourced its browser extensions so that anyone can review the code.
The VPN company also hired accounting firm PwC to verify that ExpressVPN fully complies with its privacy statement, including its strict zero-logging policy. PwC also performed a thorough audit of ExpressVPN’s TrustedServer technology and confirmed that it works the way it’s advertised.
These steps are a big deal because they prove that ExpressVPN has nothing to hide and is committed to complete transparency with its customers.
ExpressVPN has plenty of other strengths, including airtight security, blazing speeds, and user-friendly native apps. You can contact its responsive customer service team anytime with 24/7 live chat support.
This VPN has 3,000+ VPN servers spread across 160+ locations worldwide, so it’s easy to find a high-speed server near you. Since all ExpressVPN servers support P2P activity, you can connect to any server and start torrenting in seconds.
ExpressVPN protects your privacy with military-grade encryption, an automatic kill switch, and IP/DNS leak protection. This means your sensitive data stays safe even when you’re connected to an unsecured public WiFi network.
You get unlimited data, which means you can torrent and stream without limits. ExpressVPN can access geoblocked content on Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and many more popular streaming platforms.
If you’re interested in giving ExpressVPN a try, you can test it out risk-free thanks to its 30-day money-back guarantee – no questions asked.
There’s a lot more this VPN can do. Check out our expert review to learn more about ExpressVPN.
The corporate world behind VPNs is hard to untangle and constantly changing.
Just because a VPN is on this list doesn’t mean it’s not trustworthy. But it’s important to hold companies accountable for disclosing information about their products and who ultimately owns them.
If you want a VPN provider you know you can trust, I recommend privacy-friendly NordVPN.
Want to know more about data retention laws in different countries? Check out our guide on the countries in the Fourteen Eyes Alliance.
Still not sure which VPN is right for you? Take a look at our deals and discounts page (updated weekly) to find great coupons and big savings!