Spotflux: Finally, A Free VPN

Cloak is a fantastic little VPN that protects your privacy and allows you to browse the Internet safely on your Mac. Unfortunately, you must pay a price for quality.

Or must you? The team at Spotflux doesn’t think you should pay for privacy, so they have developed a great little VPN that works on Mac, Windows, iOS, and soon Android. As with anything that’s free, there must be a downside, right? Let’s find out.

Bare Bones VPN

Spotflux is enabled upon launch.

Spotflux is enabled upon launch.

Spotflux has two main features: security and privacy. In other words, if you’re on a WiFi network that has no encryption, it’s the perfect way to ensure your sensitive information isn’t easy to access wirelessly. Any ill-doer could intercept your information if it’s being transferred over a public network. For the sake of your security, it’s worth using a VPN at the local coffee shop or library.

As with most companies these days, Spotflux says it’s using “the cloud” to protect your data. Since that’s now the generalized term for all computing on a remote server, this is indeed so, but it’s mainly a marketing technique. You can also run things through a proxy and then through Spotflux if you like using that additional server. However, the actual service is quite good on it’s own. You can choose between using it as just a VPN or with added functionality using filters.

Filters Block Ads, Malware, and Tracking Code

Spotflux has one very unique feature: filters. Instead of using an ad blocker like I do, you can just switch on the VPN and it will remove them from the pages for you. I didn’t find it as effective as some of the browser plugins out there, but it’s definitely useful when browsing the Net.

Use filters or keep them disabled.

Use filters or keep them disabled.

There are other filters, too. The service tries its best to stop malware from downloading to your computer. With a Mac, this isn’t as much of a problem, but it is nice to have that extra layer between the virus’ server and your computer. Lastly, the app blocks tracking code, or “cookies” as they’re more commonly known. I personally don’t need any of these “filters” — most people don’t, and they might even break some web apps — but they do act as an extra layer of security and not a whole lot of resources are used to have them running.

Regarding Reliability

For a free service, you can’t expect perpetual uptime. It’s good to want consistency, but never complete reliability. Spotflux, thankfully, is one of those services that maintains consistency. I did experience some random disconnects, but overall daily usage has been very smooth. My only complaint is that when I’m downloading a file, it stops and I’m unable to start it at that point. Since it takes a good 45 seconds for Spotflux to switch back on after a disconnect, things can sometimes become inconvenient.

What About This Whole “Free” Concept?

Lately, a lot of services have started out by being unconditionally free. From the perspective of a user, this is a great trait to see in an app or company. And it’s evident that, when the consuming party gets what it wants, all is well in the eyes of everyone else. Sadly, when you take time to look at the core, things are falling apart.

Apple's banner on an App Store promotion.

Apple’s banner on an App Store promotion.

As Michael Jurewitz explained in an editorial related to the matter, the free mindset that developers have can be harmful to the company, and even sometimes end user. The problem is that, while beginning well, the process of a free business model goes downhill due to one flaw: most companies don’t want to be non-profit. That’s why Twitter took the sponsorship approach, Facebook went crazy with advertisements, and App.net was born. It is possible to offer a service for free, but the price is one that users must pay.

Spotflux has it's money on mobile.

Spotflux has it’s money on mobile.

With Spotflux, I found it very hard to understand what the company would do for revenue. To help things along, I spoke with Chris Naegelin, co-founder of the service. Naegelin said that Spotflux is currently only free on the desktop; if you’re using a mobile device, the service is paid. “We also monetize during the install process if a user opts-in to one of our bundle partners such as Dashlane,” he noted.

Thankfully, the co-founder said that the company “[plans] to always have an unlimited free tier”. There will be a “premium” version available on the desktop later this year, but currently the free option is all that’s offered as a sort of starting point.

I asked Naegelin what the company’s plans for the future are and, while he said that most of them are confidential, he made it a point for users to know that there will be much more focus on safe and private browsing.

Simple and Functional

Spotflux is a great app. You won’t easily find another truly free VPN out there that’s the quality of this one. There’s not a lot in the app to go on about because it’s really quite simple. It’s not like the average user needs more in a VPN than what this one offers. The privacy features and malware protection are really nice and the servers have always been speedy enough for my needs. As for the moments of downtime, they’re not that bad — it just takes longer to enable the service.


Summary

There are some little flaws here and there, like random disconnects. Still, it's the only free VPN that I know of, making it an instant choice.

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  • BareKnuckle4

    Not sure if it’s just me but it practically disables safari. I tried to google something and it locked up safari. As soon as i disabled the app safari loaded the page i was looking for.

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      Interesting. I haven’t had that problem and have been using Safari alongside Spotflux. I’d suggest contacting the developer about your issue: http://spotflux.zendesk.com

      • BareKnuckle4

        Yes i will do, maybe they can provide some optimal settings. It does seem to be a intermittent problem as when it was working i could stream TV shows from American providers like ABC & FOX.

        Also works with Netflix :)

        • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

          Oh okay. I’ve found Safari to be unstable for streaming in the past, so maybe just try Chrome for that instead.

    • http://jonathangraft.com Jonathan Graft

      I’m also noticing that if I try to go to http://google.com, I am redirected to http://google.com.pk (Pakistan).

      • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

        That’s very strange. I haven’t had any such issue.

        • AK

          Are you from Pakistan?

  • http://jonathangraft.com Jonathan Graft

    Just installed it…let’s see what Spotflux is all about! ^_^

  • http://jonathangraft.com Jonathan Graft

    I’ve used the guide posted here (http://www.macosxtips.co.uk/index_files/disable-the-dock-icon-for-any-application.php) before to hide apps that appear in my dock. However, this isn’t working for Spotflux. Any idea how to hide Spotflux from my dock & have it only appear in the menu bar?

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      I too found that annoying, though I haven’t discovered a solution to it. The problem is that the app is dock-based, not menu bar-based like most VPNs. I’m sure they’ll fix that in the future.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks so much, been looking for something just like this. Just installed and seems to work great.

  • Tony

    Might have been nice to mention that it is not available in the U.S. Apple Store.

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      Hmm? VPNs are not permitted in the Mac App Store.

  • Sigilist

    Good run down, Jacob. You hit all my points of interest and even some of my natural suspicions. Now time to give this a try.

  • Rob

    Maybe this is not the place, but have you found a way to connect to aSonicWall Vpn with mac?

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      I have not, mainly because I’ve never heard of it. After a quick Google search, though, there are some forum posts about a Mac client.

  • Elise

    Running any VPN makes going to http://www.google.com go to Google in different countries. For me, it is usually France! Easy fix: in your browser type the google address you want and at the end just type /ncr

    eg. http://www.google.com/ncr (for the USA)
    http://www.google.co.uk/ncr (for the UK)

    It works for any country. ;-)

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      Well, I never had that problem, but thanks for the solution!

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  • Mata

    Why i can’t find this app ? i wanna use it in iMac please answer i need VPN

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      There are multiple links in the article. Here’s one: http://www.spotflux.com/

  • w

    I’m curious to know how do they make money.

    • w

      Oh. Now that I actually read the entire post I know.

  • rhet

    Nice review but sorry, big NO at the moment. It requires Java

    • Dominic Nemanja

      The latest version doesn’t run Java (Older versions requires Java but not newer versions). It runs with Adobe’s flash plugin. That’s it

      It’s runs the same way as the popular VPN which is called Hotspot Shield. But in Hotspot Shield there is so many annoying Banner that is placed in the top center in every websites.

      So far the Spotflux runs at it’s the best! No ads were placed for now. But probably they’ll place the ads for free versions and hides the ads for premium version.

  • Marvin

    Very slow.

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      You could explain a bit more …

  • SD

    That’s strange! Is version 2.9.6 not the latest one? That’s the one I installed yesterday.

    I contacted the support to ask how to completely uninstall Spotflux, and the support told me to just to drag the app-icon into the trashcan. (yeah, right?!?)

    This seems like a lousy way to uninstall this software (or such software in general), as the app installed over 30 files all over my system including Java-Apps(!), which is a no-go as “rhet” mentioned above!!!

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      I never noticed its usage of Java. Maybe it installs it, but it doesn’t use the plugin for anything that I’m aware of (check Activity Monitor for proof).

      I suggest using AppCleaner for removing everything: http://www.freemacsoft.net/appcleaner/

      • SD

        Spotflux installs a Java-Application indeed, it’s called “spotflux.jar”. (the Spotflux-Support-Team confirmed the installation yesterday, and told me where some hidden configuration files are located)
        And the Java-App is used, of course, why would the installer install an App which is not used at all?!? (I’m not talking about the “Java-Plugin”, Spotflux is using a “Java-Application”)

        AppCleaner is great, but can’t find all related files.

        Try to search for filenames including “spotflux” using system-wide search tools like “Easy Find” or “iFileX”.
        Those apps are able to find cache- and hidden/system files (“.”files) like .plist-, .playlist-, .bom-, .string-, .starter-files, Java-Apps (.jar-files), etc., which can’t be found by Spotlight, appCleaner, etc. and are not visible in the Finder (by default).

        Thanks for the article and your reply, Jacob.

        • Utsav

          Would you tell me where those files are located?

  • danny

    Takes a couple extra minutes to connect to a network which is a touch annoying but bearable. Also, I don’t understand why it has to be minimised in the dock, have a dock icon and a menu bar icon… all at the same time. And you can’t change that. Bit bizarre.

    Other than that, seems ok.

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      I agree, the dock minimization is definitely an issue. I’m sure they’ll tend to it in good time.

  • Mike

    There are other free VPN services which work with OSX and IOS devices and which support inter-device access – for example http://www.threatspike.com

    Performance is always a concern with VPNs but my experience has been good so far.

  • dccampfin

    Spotflux does not appear in a search of the U.S. IOS app store. On it’s website, it says the IOS version is available in selected countries not yet including the U.S.

    I’ve been using hotspotvpn for my MBP but am tired of paying monthly for it so will probably give this a try.

  • AK

    It’s a free service. Meaning they are reading everything you transfer including your passwords otherwise either they are a charity or have gone nuts. I wouldn’t be so sure about the former.

    Or maybe some VC give them some money and told them to spend it.

    • Daniel

      Read the article; the mobile applications are not free, and they will also offer paid upgrades to the service. Only the basic level is free. Plus, they make money from ads.

      Security is of course always the biggest concern with VPN solutions. Sure they protect your data against *other*, but first you have to trust *them*. What made it a bit more trustworthy to me is that it’s not some shady secretive company that you can find out nothing about. It’s founded by two young IT professionals who specialise in information security. Of course it’s not a guarantee but I think that (a) it makes it that much less likely that they’re crooks and (b) they probably know what they’re doing (so that it’s actually secure towards the outside).

  • http://www. morgan wales

    Read the article; the mobile applications are not free, and they will also offer paid upgrades to the service. Only the basic level is free. Plus, they make money from ads.

    Security is of course always the biggest concern with VPN solutions. Sure they protect your data against *other*, but first you have to trust *them*. What made it a bit more trustworthy to me is that it’s not some shady secretive company that you can find out nothing about. It’s founded by two young IT professionals who specialise in information security. Of course it’s not a guarantee but I think that (a) it makes it that much less likely that they’re crooks and (b) they probably know what they’re doing (so that it’s actually secure towards the outside).

  • Bob

    VPN on steroids.
    It’s the best forget the rest I’ve tried many
    Get the latest version 2.9.8. Hooks up to the server in about 30 seconds. Hardly no loss in internet speed, does not disconnect any more. They have been working on any bugs and now it works perfectly.

  • heartshacker

    Does spotflux also hides or change the mac address. ?

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