Too many people assume that using a smartphone means their information is secure. But any information sent over the internet is potentially subject to interception, and your movements across the web can be tracked—especially via Wi-Fi. That’s why you need a virtual private network, or VPN, for your iPhone. With a delightfully brash name and a charming visual design, Hide My Ass makes VPN technology approachable. It’s a great service, but one that’s hampered by a stingy allotment of licenses and some concerning logging policies. If you’re taken by
What Is a VPN?
When you point your browser to a website, you send a request through the internet to the server where the website resides. The server responds with the information you requested, which your browser in turn displays. All along this trip, others can intercept your requests, or simply watch what you’re browsing and (potentially) see what you’re saying online. Most of the time it’s a question of advertisers trying to monitor your behavior for targeted ads, but attackers might also be lurking on the network to steal your personal information, your passwords, and who knows what else. A new enemy could be ISPs gathering your data to sell for big bucks.
You need a VPN because it can guard against those dangers. When you connect to a VPN, you create an encrypted connection between your device and the VPN’s server. The server passes along your request to whatever site or service you’re trying to reach, and the information travels back along the encrypted tunnel. That means that nobody, not even someone lurking on your Wi-Fi network, or even your ISP, will be able to see a thing.
Using a VPN also hides your IP address, since anyone watching traffic on websites will see the IP address of the VPN server. Provided the website you’re accessing uses HTTPS, your data should be secure all the way along its journey.
Clever criminals can set up a phony cellphone tower, such as a Femtocell, and jam the LTE and 3G bands. Doing so forces nearby phones to connect via the less secure 2G connection. Just as when an attacker controls a Wi-Fi access point, a bad guy (or a spy) can then harvest your web traffic without your realizing it. Of course, this is a very rare and exotic kind of attack. Even so, it’s good to know that VPN services work over cellular connections, too. And most are smart enough to handle the hand-off when changing cell towers and when you move from cellular to Wi-Fi.
The most obvious place to use a VPN is when you’re away from your home network—at a hotel when you’re traveling, for example, or at the local coffee shop’s public Wi-Fi. Unsecured networks like these are a favorite of attackers looking to swipe your personal information. VPNs are also a key tool for journalists and political dissidents operating in countries with oppressive internet policies.
But VPNs can be fun, too! We know that sounds like a stretch, but it’s true. A VPN can spoof your current location, giving you access to geographically restricted content like BBC streaming or MLB TV. Some sites don’t appreciate these activities (which may be in violation of terms of service or even local laws) and content providers such as Netflix are also cracking down on users who spoof their location and the VPN services they use to do it. Not every VPN works with Netflix, and the list fluctuates as Netflix endeavors to keep VPN services blocked, and the services do their best to get around being blocked.
Features and Pricing
When you first log in to the Hide My Ass iOS app, you can choose a 7-day free trial or sign up for one of the paid plans. It’s always great having a chance to try before you buy, but once that week is over you must pay up or drop the app. If you’re in need of a great
Hide My Ass has a 30-day money-back guarantee and offers loyalty rewards for convincing others to sign up. That said, it costs $11.99 per month, putting it on the higher end of VPN services. Editors’ Choice winner KeepSolid VPN Unlimited (for iPhone) costs only $9.99 per month—or as little as $4.99 per week on a short-term subscription. The current average is about $10.50 per month.
If you’re the commitment type, you can get a Hide My Ass subscription for $47.94 for six months or $71.88 per year. Those are decent prices for those durations, but it’s worth noting that some VPN services such as VPN Unlimited offer lifetime plans, for long-term protection.
To buy a Hide My Ass subscription, you can use credit cards, PayPal, or e-check. What you can’t use are cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which many VPN services like Private Internet Access, NordVPN, and others
Unfortunately, the service’s relatively steep price seems even higher given the stingy number of devices it lets you protect per license. Hide My Ass only lets you connect two devices to the service, and only when those devices connect to different servers. That’s fine if you just have a computer and phone, but plenty of folks have several devices and may share them with family members, too. Most other services offer at least five licenses, with no restriction on which servers they use.
Hide My Ass offers a handy guide for installing VPN software on your home router. Doing so protects every single device on your network—from your laptop to your smart fridge. However, that protection ends when you step out the door with your smartphone.
Servers and Locations
A key differentiator between VPN services is the number of available servers and their geographic distribution. With lots of servers, you’re more likely to find a server that’s not bogged down with other users. With lots of locations, you have more choices for spoofing purposes. Plenty of locations also ensure that no matter where you travel there will always be a nearby server for the best performance. Hide My Ass offers more than 800 servers across some 280 locations in 220 countries. This is
Some consumers might be concerned about a VPN company’s use of virtual servers. These are software-defined servers that make a single physical server effectively operate as several servers. Virtual servers can also behave as if they are in one country when they’re really in another, which is a problem if you’re worried about where your data is traveling.
A company representative told us that a full 225 of the 286 server locations offered by
Running under Windows, Hide My Ass uses the OpenVPN protocol, as do the Android, Linux, and macOS clients. We prefer OpenVPN because of its open-source nature, and because it affords excellent speed and protection. The iOS client uses the IPSec protocol. Some iPhone VPNs support multiple protocols, and let the user choose; not Hide My Ass. That’s not a big loss, as this app is all about ease of use. The average user isn’t going to care how their VPN connects, only that it does.
Despite its impressive geographic coverage, Hide My Ass has nothing in the way of specialty servers. Editors’ Choice winner NordVPN, on the other hand, has a specific server type for high-speed video streaming, another that routes your VPN connection through the Tor network, others for P2P file sharing and BitTorrent, and yet another that provides double encryption. That said, these specialty servers are more important to those using VPN on a desktop computer.
Other services, such as Private Internet Access VPN (for iPhone) and TorGuard, include ad and tracker blocking, but Hide My Ass does not offer this ability, either. If you need advanced features, or even just the ability to change which VPN protocol to use, you’d best look elsewhere.
Your Privacy With
Hide My Ass
With any security product, you want to be sure that the company behind it will be operating in your best interests. This is especially true for VPNs, which aim to improve privacy and security. If a VPN company is just as nosey as your ISP, there’s not much point in using it.
What is notable is that Hide My Ass will store this data for two to three months, while VyprVPN stores it for only 30 days. Other services hold even less information, or they dispose of it immediately. Hide My Ass says that it retains this data for this span to improve performance, prevent fraud, and prevent bad guys from using the VPN to send spam. The company, notably, also lists file sharing as one of the illicit activities it requires this information to prevent, despite the company being fine with the use of BitTorrent on some servers. You’ll find more detailed information about the company’s privacy and data retention policies in our review of Hide My Ass VPN for Windows.
Separate from keeping your use of the VPN service private, there’s another possible privacy concern. Hide My Ass uses Third-Party Analytics and Third-Party Crash Reporting to “enhance your user experience.” If you’d rather not share that information, you can dig into settings and opt out.
Hands On With Hide My Ass
The Hide My Ass VPN iOS app has a bright, colorful design. It installed in a snap on the Apple iPhone SE we used for testing.
The product’s appearance has changed quite a bit since our last review. The main window no longer features an animated image of the product’s donkey mascot, Jack. Now at the top, you see a dim image of a rocket blasting past a mountain. If you just tap to connect in the default Instant Mode, the VPN chooses the fastest available server, and the rocket image gains color. We kind of miss the way Jack used to give a thumbs-up on connection, and wave the flag of the VPN server’s country.
You can switch from the default Instant Mode to Location Mode. When you do, the top image becomes a collection of worldwide icons such as the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty, and Big Ben. When you tap to connect, you can choose
Switch to Freedom Mode and you’ll see a birdie escaping its cage at the top of the screen. This mode seems akin to the Anti-Censorship mode from our earlier review. When you connect in this mode, it looks for what Hide My Ass calls the “fastest free-speech server.” The server it chose in our testing proved to be in Seattle, WA. What makes it a free-speech server isn’t clear.
Helpfully, the displayed server location identifies virtual servers. For example, just choosing
People looking to access region-locked content with
Good VPN Speed Test Results
No matter the VPN service you use, your connection will change somehow—usually for the worse. But not all VPNs have the same effect on your internet experience. To test the impact on connection speeds, we compare the average results from Ookla’s internet speed test tool to find the percent change with the VPN on and off. (Note that Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company, also owns Ookla.) Because networks are notoriously fickle things, we take the baseline measurements immediately before testing VPN speeds.
The latency test measures how long it takes for your device to ping a server and receive its response. Going through a VPN rather than directly to that server naturally has potential to increase latency. Fortunately, Hide My Ass had a small impact, increasing latency by just 15.7 percent, well below the current average of 28 percent. IPVanish VPN (for iPhone) displayed the most impact on latency, 79.5 percent.
As for upload speed, all the recent products except AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite (for iPhone) slowed uploads by some amount, but none by a lot. Note, too, that for most mobile activities, downloads are more significant than uploads. Hide My Ass slowed uploads by 2.5 percent, edged out by PureVPN’s 2.4 percent. Even the worst score, 8.5 percent from TorGuard and Private Internet Access, wasn’t so bad.
Taken all together, speed scores from
Fun and Effective, but With Caveats
It’s easy to see why Hide My Ass has such an ardent following. It has a fun design and is remarkably easy to use on any major platform. It also delivered solid speed test scores both on iOS and Windows. Best of all, it’s very, very simple. Unfortunately, its two-license policy is quite restrictive, making it hard to justify the comparatively high price. The company’s logging policy is also not ideal. If you value a slick, friendly interface, Hide My Ass is one of the best, but you can get an excellent experience and features at a better per-device price with iPhone VPN Editors’ Choice winners NordVPN and KeepSolid VPN Unlimited.