VPN Reviews

Hola Review – A Free Browser Based Anonymity Service

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Hola is a free, peer-to-peer anonymity service which was designed to make the internet faster and fully accessible to everyone. The service was launched by Israel based Hola Networks Ltd. in September’ 2012 and is currently being used by over 45 million people from all over the world. In this detailed Hola review, we will check out the features offered by Hola and reveal whether or not you should use the service.

Server Locations & Site Access – Unlike other VPN services, Hola doesn’t have servers at specific locations. Instead the service relies on peer-to-peer exchange to unlock GEO-IP blocked services and bypass censorship. While the lack of servers may seem like a drawback at the first glance, in reality it is a good thing since tens of thousands of people using the service at any point of time can act as peers and provide instant access to streaming services that are available only in few countries.

Depending on the peers available, you can unblock On-Demand services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Spotify, Zattoo, Pandora, Canal+, Amazon Prime, ABC, HBO Now, 4OD, Rara, CBC, Lovefilm, HBO Go, NHL, Eurosport, NBC, Xfinity, Demand 5 and Vudu from anywhere regardless of your real location. Moreover, switching countries and access streaming services from North America, Europe and Asia is as easy as clicking on a button. The service can even assist you to bypass country or organization level censorship and access sites like Gmail, Facebook, Skype, Viber, Twitter and YouTube (even from China, Iran, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Brail or Thailand).

VPN Speed & Bandwidth – Hola works a little differently from other VPN services. The service uses the idle resources of users’ devices and removes common internet bottlenecks (server response times, round trip times, congestion etc.) by caching content on peers’ computers and mobile devices. The service also compresses communication occurring between peers in order to deliver a faster service and allow members to save money on their data costs. The company has even designed a media player that allows members to stream videos and torrents without the need to download them.

Since Hola is a P2P based service, speed is dependent on the number of peers available. Say you want to access the US version of Netflix, streaming would be a lot faster if more people from United States are using the service. Additionally, the speed also depends on the number of people using the service within your geographical area. Subscribers who need faster speeds have the option of subscribing to the premium version of the service.

Privacy Settings – Privacy is a major concern with Hola. Unlike other VPN services, the service doesn’t encrypt traffic (not even for premium subscribers). Since the service forwards requests in plain text format, it is possible for intelligence agencies, ISPs, hackers and marketing firms to keep a tab of your online activities. Also, while Hola claims that it is an ad-free service, security experts have warned that the company injects ads into webpages. Hola also keeps a history of sites visited by you on its site (which can be cleared) and also recommends sites that are frequently visited by other members from your geographical area.

Since your device would be used as an exit or intermediate node for other members, there is a danger that you could be framed for a criminal activity conducted by other members of the service. For instance, the service doesn’t block torrents so if someone uses it to download a movie or TV show via your device, you could face the heat from copyright holders or law enforcement agencies. To prevent such a possibility, it is better to upgrade to Premium version since premium subscribers are never used as peers.

As far as logging is concerned, Hola collects a wide range of data including IP address, email, device ID, access date/time and webpages visited in aggregated form to improve its service. Personal data of members is never shared with third parties unless the company is forced to do so by a court order.

Supported Operating Systems – Hola works on Windows and Mac through a browser extension (available for Firefox, Google Chrome and Internet explorer) and as a full-fledged app for iOs and Android. In addition to the extension, the service also installs a program that acts as a media player and torrent client. While it is possible to use the service from multiple devices at the same time, free users cannot use it on multiple browsers on the same device. If you are using the service from a mobile device, it would only use you as a peer if your device is plugged in and is connected to Wi-Fi.

Customer Support – Since Hola is a free service, customer support is not as good as provided by premium VPN providers. Currently the company offers support through email but it could take days for the support staff to reply to a query. On the plus side, the provider offers extremely detailed setup and troubleshooting instructions on its website which could definitely help you to fix problems on your own.

Pricing Options – While Hola is free for Windows, Mac and Android, it is only available as a paid service for iPads and iPhones. The paid version costs $4.99 a month or $45 per year and is same as the Premium version available for other Operating systems and devices. There is a 7 day free trial available for new iOS subscribers but once you become a paid member, it is not possible to get a refund for the service.

Final Verdict – While Hola is a free service, it comes with lots of speed and privacy issues. In fact, it cannot be even termed as a proper VPN service since there is no tunneling feature available. As such, I do not recommend the service to those who are looking for an anonymity service to bypass censorship or surveillance. On the other hand, if you are looking for an anonymity service to access location blocked streaming services, you can definitely give it a try. For more information, please visit: www.hola.org.

July 8, 2015

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