Internet Shutdowns & Free VPNs: Who Owns The Most Popular Apps?

Internet shutdowns regularly cause a huge demand for free VPN apps. But 65% of the most popular VPNs do not even disclose the companies operating them, potentially putting citizens' entire digital activity at risk.
Internet Shutdown & VPN Ownership Investigation hero image of protesters in Myanmar demonstrating against internet restrictions during military coup
Simon Migliano
Samuel Woodhams
Christine O'Donnell
Simon Migliano & Samuel Woodhams & Christine O'Donnell

Free VPN Ownership Findings

Overall Analysis

We investigated the companies operating 17 free VPN apps that were popular during major internet shutdowns in 4 countries. In total, these VPN apps have been downloaded over 350 million times.

  • Poor Transparency:
    • 11 VPN apps (65%) do not disclose their official company name
    • 13 VPNs (76%) fail to disclose a verifiable address on the Google Play Store
    • 8 VPNs (47%) do not have a dedicated website
    • 11 VPNs (65%) have non-corporate email addresses listed as primary customer service contacts
    • 5 VPN app developers were so well-concealed we were unable to identify their official name or location
  • Potential Conflicts of Interest: 58% of the VPN apps with identifiable developers (7 VPNs) are owned by companies whose directors are involved in other business activities such as advertising or data analytics.
  • China Connection: 53% (9 apps) of VPN services included in this report have links to China. 8 VPNs are owned by individuals or companies based in mainland China.

Analysis by Country

Myanmar

  • 1 of 5 VPNs fails to disclose its official company name
  • 2 VPNs have potential conflicts of interest
  • 3 VPNs have links to mainland China

Nigeria

  • 3 of 5 VPNs fail to disclose their official company name
  • 2 VPNs have potential conflicts of interest
  • 2 VPNs have links to mainland China

Kazakhstan

  • 4 of 5 VPNs fail to disclose their official company name
  • 1 VPN has a potential conflict of interest
  • 3 VPNs have links to mainland China

India

  • All 5 VPNs fail to disclose their official company name
  • 3 VPNs have potential conflicts of interests
  • 2 VPNs have links to mainland China

The Role of Free VPNs in Internet Shutdowns

Internet shutdowns are a form of repressive digital disruption aimed at stifling citizens’ right to information and freedom of expression. They regularly occur during protests, elections, and socio-political upheaval.

As well as undermining citizens’ fundamental human rights, they also have significant economic consequences. Our previous research has shown the global economy lost over $5.5 billion to shutdowns in 2021 alone.

During the blocking of social media and other vital online services, demand for free VPN apps often surges as citizens look to find ways to bypass the restrictions.

As internet shutdowns regularly occur in countries that also exhibit high levels of surveillance, it’s vital the tools used to circumvent them are reliable and trustworthy. Without this, citizens’ entire digital activity may be made visible to suspect actors.

This investigation reveals many of the most popular VPN apps downloaded during internet shutdowns are ran by intentionally opaque companies that have significant credibility issues and potential conflicts of interest.

While 65% of VPNs did not disclose their official company name, we were able to identify the parent companies of 12 apps through extensive investigation of public records.

Three quarters of VPNs do not disclose where they are legally incorporated. Critically, this prevents users from learning the VPN jurisdiction that applies to their data.

We also documented nine apps with links to mainland China, where surveillance of digital communication is pervasive despite recent data privacy legislation.[1]

Each of the sections below documents popular free VPN apps downloaded during internet shutdowns in four countries. In total, they have 350 million downloads and may be putting those most at risk of persecution due to their digital activity at an even greater risk.

See the results of our security analysis of popular internet shutdown VPN services

Internet Shutdowns VPN Ownership Overview

The table below shows an overview of our ownership findings for the 17 VPN apps that were most popular VPN during internet restrictions in Myanmar, Nigeria, Kazakhstan and India.

Full details of each of the VPNs app listings and ownership findings are available on this datasheet.

Note: The “Disclosure of Official Company Name” column in the table above indicates whether or not the VPN developer’s official registered company name was discoverable via their Play Store listing, either directly or via a linked resource.

For those VPNs where we have indicated that the company name was not disclosed but their details are included in the table, this was as a result of extensive investigation of public records beyond what could be considered reasonable for the average consumer.

Myanmar VPNs: Full Details

Internet shutdowns occurred throughout 2021 in Myanmar following a military coup in February. VPN demand skyrocketed by 7,200% on 4 February as the restrictions began.

Despite offering a way to stay connected to the outside world and hide citizens’ communication from surveillance, several of the secretive companies that own the VPNs appear to have links to mainland China, where the monitoring of digital communication is ubiquitous.

The following apps were popular on the Google Play Store during December 2021, as Facebook and Twitter continued to be blocked.

Vast VPN – Secure VPN Proxy

  • Installs: 5 million
  • Listed Developer: Vast Security Innovation Lab
  • App ID: com.vast.vpn.proxy.unblock
  • App Website: Undisclosed
  • Support email: [email protected] | [email protected]

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Registered Company Name: Zhiyu (Hong Kong) Technology Limited
    智娛(香港)科技有限公司
  • Company No: 2652855
  • Corporate Website: No corporate site
  • Play Store Listing Address: None given
  • Registered Address: RM4, 16/F, Ho King Comm Ctr, 2-16 Fayuen St, Mongkok Kln, Hong Kong
  • Company Director:
    • Wang Qing (王晴) – Chinese national with Shenzhen, China address (full details redacted but available on public record)
  • Shareholder: Yang Yuanping – Chinese national with Dalian City, China address (full details redacted but available on public record)

China Links

  • Both the director and sole shareholder have residential addresses in mainland China.

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • While the developer does disclose its official name of Zhiyu (Hong Kong) Technology Limited, this is buried in the Vast VPN privacy policy, where it’s not likely to be found by the average user.
  • No developer website disclosed on Vast VPN’s Play Store listing.
  • On the Play Store developer page for Vast Security Innovation Lab, the developer website link directs to sandbox-kui.api.intl.miui.com/kui/_redirect.
  • Screenshot of developer website URL on Vast VPN developer page on Play Store

    Screenshot of developer website URL on Vast VPN developer page on Play Store.

  • This link does not resolve to a normal website as it’s a URL relating to the development environment for Chinese mobile company Xiaomi’s version of Android. This URL does not load anything useful in a user’s browser and is very unusual to see on an app listing.
  • Screenshot of browser windown after Vast VPN developer link resolves

    Screenshot of browser windown after Vast VPN developer link resolves.

  • The developer does not publicly disclose its own address. Even on its business registration documents and annual returns, it instead always uses the address of Hong Kong Tenyan Business Secretary Ltd, the firm acting as its company secretary.
  • Zhiyu (Hong Kong) Technology Limited changed directors and shareholders in March/April 2020. The previous owners were also based in mainland China.
  • The developer uses a personal Gmail account as the official support email address for Vast VPN, which suggests a lack of professionalism.

Potential Conflicts of Interest

  • Company director Wang Qing is also the director of HK Wanzhong Technology Limited 香港萬眾科技有限公司 (Company No. 2514420)
  • The Wanzhong Technology About Us web page states that “its business includes business information agency, online advertising, marketing, and computer database information systemization”.
  • Wang Qing also has business interests in mainland China, as they own high-end electronics company Shenzhen Xinxi Lianlian Technology Co., Ltd, which is based in Shenzhen.

Cool VPN Pro – Fast VPN Proxy

App Info

  • Installs: 1 million
  • Listed Developer: Cool VPN Team
  • App ID: vpn.global.free.proxy.super
  • App Website: cc.coolline.client.pro
  • Support email: [email protected]

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Registered Company Name: Fox Economics Pte. Ltd.
  • Corporate Website: Undisclosed
  • Registered Address: 51 Ayer Rajah Crescent #07-09, Singapore
  • Company Directors:
    • Zhao Faming – Chinese national with a Singapore residential address (full details redacted but available on public record)
  • Shareholder: Zhao Faming, as above.

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • The developer of the app used to be called “Foxe Team”, they still use the email address [email protected], share an address with Fox Economics, and no other live companies appear to be registered there.
  • While we haven’t been able to fully confirm they are definitely the same company, what we have found certainly suggests that they could be connected in some way.
  • The use of a personal Gmail account is unprofessional and does not align with standard business practices.
  • On its registration documents Fox Economics lists its primary business activity as “Research and Experimental Development on Medical Science”. This may be due to an error that occurred while registering the businesses or perhaps a shift in commercial focus.
  • We contacted the developer via their support email under the guise of a normal user to confirm whether Fox Economics is the official company behind the app. We did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Turbo VPN

App Info

  • Installs: 100 million
  • Listed Developer: Innovative Connecting
  • App ID: free.vpn.unblock.proxy.turbovpn
  • App Website: turbovpn.com
  • Support email: [email protected]

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Registered Company Name: Innovative Connecting Pte. Ltd.
  • Company No: 201812738K
  • Corporate Website: inconnecting.com
  • Play Store Listing Address: 8 Marina View #42-099 Asia Square Tower 1 Singapore 018960
  • Registered Address: as per app store listing
  • Company Directors:
    • Zhao Tingting – Chinese national with a Singapore address (full details redacted but available on public record)
  • Shareholder Name: Lemon Seed Technology Ltd
  • Shareholder Address: Cricket Square, Hutchins Drive, P.O. Box 2681, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

China Links

  • While current director Zhao Tingting is a Chinese national who resides in Singapore, Innovative Connecting has had several past directors with residential addresses in mainland China, as documented in our prior research.
  • Sole shareholder Lemon Seed Technology has the same Cayman Islands business number as former sole shareholder Linksure Telecom Sea Holding Ltd, which shared a name with Linksure – whose founder and CEO is Chen Danian (Danny Chen) – a well-known Chinese internet entrepreneur.

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • As previously revealed by Top10VPN, Turbo VPN is one of several major free VPN services that appear to be linked via an opaque web of companies and associated individuals. All of the related entities appear to have links to mainland China.
  • The company has regularly changed directors and address since we first put it under the spotlight in 2018, which may indicate attempts to evade reasonable scrutiny.
  • The current director of Innovative Connecting was previously the director of a company involved in “advertising activities”, according to its business registration documents. This may indicate a potential conflict of interest.

Speedfiy, Speedfiy Pro

Note: These apps are grouped as they are both owned by the same company, Prime Digital Pte. Ltd.

The free version of Speedfiy was among the most popular VPN services during the Myanmar internet disruptions, while the Pro version was among the most-downloaded during Nigeria’s Twitter ban.

App Info

  • Installs: 10 million | 5 million (Pro version)
  • Listed Developer: Prime Digital Pte. Ltd.
  • App ID: com.free.speedfiy com.speedfiypro.app
  • App Website: primedigitalpteltd.com (no SSL)
  • Support email: [email protected] or [email protected]

Who’s behind these VPNs?

  • Registered Company Name: Prime Digital Pte. Ltd.
  • Company No: 202028838W
  • Corporate Website: primedigitalpteltd.com (no SSL)
  • Play Store Listing Address: Undisclosed
  • Registered Address: Vision Exchange, 2 Venture Drive #11-31, Singapore 608526
  • Company Directors:
    • Zhou Yu – Chinese national with Hunan, China address (full details redacted but available on public record)
    • Willard Ng Zheng Yang – Singaporean national with Singapore address (full details redacted but available on public record)
    • Li Jing – Chinese national with Guangzhou, China address (full details redacted but available on public record)
  • Shareholders:
    • Li Jing – as above
    • Zhou Yu – as above

China Links

  • Prime Digital directors and shareholders Jing Li and Zhou Yu are Chinese nationals with residential addresses in mainland China.

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • The Play Store listing links to an error-strewn single-page website about an unrelated app called Uranus NetTest, with no mention of Speedfiy VPN.
  • The privacy policy linked from the Play Store relates to Uranus NetTest rather than Speedfiy VPN. This means the policy is not legally enforceable.
  • Prime Digital does not disclose that it’s connected to Dyes Pte Ltd, which develops the VPN Tunnel-solo app, despite the two companies sharing a director in Zhou Yu.
  • Speedfiy and Speedfiy Pro are popular apps, with over 15 million installs combined.

Potential Conflicts of Interest

  • Company directors Zhou Yu and Willard Ng Zheng Yang are directors of many other companies, some of which are involved in advertising.
  • Yang is a director of four currently active companies whose business registration documents list their with primary business as “advertising activities”. They were appointed as director for two of these in the past 12 months.
    • Mobyoung Pte. Ltd. (UEN: 201707933E)
    • Inpaway Technologies Pte. Ltd. (UEN: 201807767C)
    • Sinozo Pte. Ltd. (UEN: 201928070M)
    • Next Mobile Pte. Ltd. (UEN: 202017805M)
  • Yang is also the director of a data analytics company: Mole Innovation Technology Pte. Ltd. (UEN: 20194104R)
  • Zhou is a director at Dyes Pte. Ltd. (UEN: 202015026Z), an IT consultancy firm, whose business registration documents confirm is also involved in advertising.
  • The potential for a conflict of interest is clear, especially as the VPN service operated by these two individuals is, or has been, responsible for as many as 15 million users’ data. This is exacerbated by the lack of an enforceable privacy policy.
  • The two directors are involved with at least 36 companies, covering a scattershot range of industries. As well operating VPN services and developing other software, their business activities include coffee and tea wholesaling, beauty salons and spas, events, and the import/export of industrial materials. Zhou registered four companies in December 2021 alone.
  • This diversity of focus calls into question whether the operators of Speedfiy and Speedfiy Pro VPN are genuinely dedicated to digital privacy and data security.

1.1.1.1: Faster & Safer Internet

App Info

  • Installs: 50 million
  • Listed Developer: Cloudflare, Inc.
  • App ID: com.cloudflare.onedotonedotonedotone
  • App Website: cloudflare.com
  • Support email: [email protected]

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Company Name: Cloudflare, Inc
  • Corporate Website: cloudflare.com
  • Play Store Listing Address: 101 Townsend San Francisco, Califronia, 94107, United States
  • Company Directors:
    • Michelle Zatlyn (US national)
    • Mathew Prince (US national)
    • John Graham-Cumming (US national)

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • Cloudflare is one of the world’s largest web infrastructure and security company based in the United States
  • It is a publicly traded company, with very few corporate credibility issues.

Note: In a blog post from 2019, the company wrote the app “is not designed to allow you to access geo-restricted content… It will not hide your IP address from the websites you visit.”[2] Because of this, it’s not the ideal app to use during internet shutdowns.

Nigeria VPNs: Full Details

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari banned access to Twitter on 5 June 2021. In response, citizens turned to VPN to access the social media website. We documented a 1,409% rise in demand of VPNs but many of the most popular apps appear to be highly unprofessional and several even have links to China.

FastVPN, RavoVPN

Note: These VPN apps are grouped as they are both owned by the same company, Five Oceans Tech Limited.

FastVPN was among the most downloaded VPN apps during the Nigerian Twitter ban and during the Indian internet shutdown specified in this report.

RavoVPN was among the most popular VPN apps during the Kazakh internet outages.

App Info

  • Installs: 10 million (FastVPN) | 10 million (RavoVPN)
  • Listed Developer: Five Oceans E-Commerce
  • App ID: com.network.tools.fast.vpn | com.bettertec.ravo.app
  • App Websites:
    • FastVPN: app.toponeerp.com
    • RavoVPN: app.dasiding.com
  • Support email: [email protected]

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Registered Company Name: Five Oceans Tech Limited
  • Company No: 2641456
  • Corporate Website: fiveoceans.tech
  • Play Store Listing Address: Flat/Room A 20/F Kiu Fu Comm Building 300 Lockhart Road Wan Chai Hong Kong
  • Registered Address: Flat/Room A 12/F ZJ 300, 300 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
  • Company Director: Xu, Liang – Chinese national with Xi’an City, China address (full details redacted but available on public record)
  • Shareholders:
    • Company Name: Xi’An Vision Network Technology Co. Ltd (西安远景网络科技有限公司)
      • Company No: 91610131MA6TYDTC8C
      • Place of Incorporation: China
      • Registered Address: Room 1201, Xi’An Chuangxin Design Center, No. 69, South Second Ring West Section Beilin District, Xi’An City, Shaanxi, China
    • Company Name: Xi’An Five Oceans Network Technology Co. Ltd (西安五大洋網絡科技有限公司)
      • Company No: 91610103MA6U6NEBXG
      • Place of Incorporation: China
      • Registered Address: Room 1110, Chuangxin Design Center, No. 69, South Second Ring West Section Beilin District, Xi’An City, Shanxi Province, China

China Links

  • Five Oceans E-Commerce director is a Chinese citizen with an address in Xi’an, China
  • The company’s shareholders are also incorporated in Xi’An City, China

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • The developer’s registered address is actually that of Linkup Secretary Limited, the firm acting as its company secretary. Nowhere does Five Oceans Tech Ltd. publicly disclose an address unique to that business.
  • The address used on the Play Store listing is in the same building as its company secretary but is one used by many other businesses.[3]
  • Both RavoVPN and FastVPN’s websites have the same sparse single-page structure, with no mention of who is operating these VPN services.
  • The domains used for both VPN app websites also appear to refer to different apps entirely
  • Director Liang Xu holds, or previously held, 22 other directorships in a wide array of industries. Many of which have little to do with app development or internet security.

Potential Conflicts of Interest

  • Original shareholder is Chinese firm Xi’An Vision Network Technology, also known as HeHeMobi. The CEO is listed variously as Sandy Xu and Xu, Liang (same name as director of Five Oceans).
  • HeHeMobi is a Chinese mobile advertising company. A Chinese-language news article described it as having “a number of professional teams such as CPI, CPA, CPL and cross-border e-commerce, and is building a DSP platform covering all fields and traffic in the whole industry, providing partners with effective advertising and marketing solutions, innovative technologies and traffic acquisition services”.[4]
    • Earlier versions of the HeheMobi site used stock photography for images of its staff.[5]
    • The firm’s email [email protected] also appears on farvision.tech, which shares the same design as the old hehemobi.com site. Its strapline is “We are committed to provide the results oriented solutions of mobile marketing for domestic developer product to go abroad”.
  • Another shareholder, Xi’An Five Oceans Network Technology Co. Ltd, also owned by the same person and based in mainland China, describes itself as an international B2C e-commerce trade platform on its 51oceans.com website.

USA VPN – Get USA IP

App Info

  • Installs: 1 million
  • Listed Developer: AltApps
  • App ID: vpn.usa_tap2free
  • App Website: tap2free.net
  • Support email: [email protected]

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Company Name: AltApps
    • Official Name: Undisclosed
  • Company No: Undisclosed
  • Corporate Website: Undisclosed
  • Play Store Listing Address: 02137, Ukraine, Kyiv, PO BOX #17
  • Registered Address: Undisclosed
  • Company Director: Undisclosed

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • The link to the developer website displayed on the Play Store directs to a blank page with no content, despite being the domain’s home page. This is because the site is no more than a bare bones directory of privacy policies and an IP checker.[6]
  • Screenshot of AltApps bare bones corporate website
  • Extensive efforts to confirm the official company name and address failed to uncover what should ideally be easily accessible information. This stark absence of any information at all, combined with the decision to host a bare bones corporate website, suggests the company is actively trying to avoid reasonable scrutiny.
  • The developers have created more than 20 VPN apps targeting various countries, including China. Combined, they’ve been downloaded more than 12 million times.
  • We contacted the developer via their support email under the guise of a normal user to confirm the legal entity handling user data and where it was incorporated but had yet to receive a response by the time of publication.

VPN Master – Fast Secure Proxy
VPN Master Pro – Fast & Secure

Note: These apps are grouped together as they are both have the same listed developer, VPM Master.

The listed as “VPN Master – Fast Secure Proxy” was among the most downloaded VPN apps during the Nigeria Twitter ban.

VPN Master Pro was been among the most popular VPN apps during the Kazakhstan and India internet disruptions.

App Info

  • Installs: 50 million (Pro) | 10 million
  • Listed Developer: VPM Master
  • App ID: com.vpnmasterx.pro | com.vpnmasterx.free
  • App Website: vpnmasterx.com
  • Support email: [email protected]

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Registered Company Name: Undisclosed
  • Company No: Undisclosed
  • Corporate Website: No corporate site
  • Play Store Listing Address: Room 22 8/f BLK G Kwai Shing Industrial Building (Stage 2), 42-46 Tai Lin Pai Road Kwai Chung (Hong Kong)
  • Registered Address: Undisclosed
  • Company Director: Identity unknown

China Links

  • The address displayed on the Play Store is in Hong Kong
  • Due to the complete lack of corporate transparency, it’s impossible to verify whether there are links to mainland China as well as to Hong Kong.

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • These VPN services were among the most-downloaded VPN apps in India, Kazakhstan, and Nigeria during major government internet outages. Yet the company operating them remains elusive.
  • Exhaustive investigations of the address given on the Google Play Store listing returned no useful information.
  • The same developers also operate Fast VPN – com.vpnmasterx.fast – which has accumulated over 10 million installs worldwide.
  • VPN Master’s privacy policy is hosted on Google’s free website builder on the default URL rather than its own domain.
  • Both privacy policies refer to VPN Master Team. We were unable to confirm this is the name of any legitimate registered business.
  • We contacted the developer under the guise of a normal user to gather information about the company behind the app. No response has been received at the time of publication.
  • There is such a stark absence of information available about this company anywhere in the public domain, in any language, that it would appear to be a deliberate strategy to avoid reasonable scrutiny.

Speedfiy Pro

This VPN app is owned by Prime Digital Pte Ltd. This company also operates the free version of Speedfiy, which has been among the most popular VPN apps during the Myanmar internet disruptions.

Jump to the full ownership details of the Speedfiy VPN apps, as outlined in the Myanmar section of this report.

Windscribe VPN

App Info

  • Installs: 10 million
  • Listed Developer: Windscribe Limited
  • App ID: vpn.global.free.proxy.super
  • App Website: windscribe.com
  • Support email: [email protected]

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Company Name: Windscribe
  • Corporate Website: windscribe.com
  • Play Store Listing Address: 59251 Yonge St #8901, Richmond Hill, ON, L4C 9T3, Canada
  • Company Directors:
    • Yegor Sak – Canadian national with Ontario, Canada address (full details redacted but available on public record)

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • Windscribe is a reliable VPN and considered one of the most trustworthy free VPN currently available
  • It is privately owned and operated, with no external investors.

Kazakhstan VPNs: Full Details

In early January, authorities in Kazakhstan imposed several internet blackouts during protests that initially emerged because of fuel shortages. The disruptions cost the economy over $400 million.

Although VPN are not effective during full internet blackouts, citizens still turned to the apps in the hope of hiding their digital footprint. We previously documented a 3,405% rise in the demand for VPN services.

However, many of the most popular apps citizens were downloading were run by opaque companies that appear to have done everything in their power to hide their identity.

The following apps were popular in the country as of 5 January 2022.

Smart Clean-Booster, Cleaner

Note this is a multi-purpose app that includes a VPN service.

App Info

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Company Name: [email protected]
    • Official Name: Undisclosed
  • Company No: Undisclosed
  • Corporate Website: Undisclosed
  • Play Store Listing Address: Undisclosed
  • Registered Address: Kwai Shing Industrial Building (Stage 2), 42-46 Tai Lin Pai Road Room 020, Block H, 3/F, Hong Kong
  • Company Directors: Undisclosed

China Links

  • The address listed on the Google Play Store is in Hong Kong.

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • It is extremely unusual to see a VPN app with so many installs have a Play Store listing that has an email address as the listed developer name rather than a company name of some sort.
  • The privacy policy refers to Smart Clean as the developer, however this is not a legal entity as far as we could confirm.
  • The developer has used the address of another firm HK Gangxin International Accountancy Secretary Limited 香港港鑫國際會計秘書有限公司 (Company No. 1462638) on its Play Store listings. Given the nature of this business, it’s likely that it has been appointed as company secretary for the developer.
  • Despite extensive efforts, we were unable to find any other address for this developer.
  • This developer has previously been known as TopAppStudio, although this does not appear to be a legal entity either. This developer name appears on privacy policies for other VPN apps hosted on the same domain as this VPN’s privacy policy.
  • Significant attempts appear to have been made to conceal the identity of the operator of this VPN service. This lack of transparency prevents consumers from understanding exactly how their data is being stored and used.
  • This developer appears to have some connection with Nox Ltd, which operates the well-known Android emulator NoxPlayer. Nox is also based in Hong Kong.
    • The connection arises from the com.applock.privacy.free Android app that lists a topappstudio.com support email address on the Play Store.
    • This app has a listed developer of Super Speed and address of PLZ 44708, Ort Bochum.
    • Multiple third-party app stores list the website of this developer at that address as www.noxgroup.com

Clean Master Pro

Note this is a multi-purpose app that includes a VPN service.

App Info

  • Installs: 10 million
  • Listed Developer: CleanMaster
  • App ID: com.freeboosterpro.secure
  • App Website: www.supercleanmaster.com
  • Support email: [email protected] or [email protected]

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Company Name: CleanMaster
    • Official Name: Undisclosed
  • Company No: Undisclosed
  • Corporate Website: www.supercleanmaster.com
  • Play Store Listing Address: Undisclosed
  • Registered Address: Undisclosed
  • Company Director(s): Undisclosed
  • Shareholder Name: Undisclosed

China Links

  • Chinese language seen on the VPN website’s homepage and Terms of Service
  • Third party code linked to Alibaba’s SDK was found in the app’s source code
  • Alibaba is also the VPN website’s hosting provider
  • Another app by CleanMaster called Scannertube, a barcode scanning tool, also contains Chinese libraries by Huawei and Tencent
Screenshot of Chinese characters in an image on CleanMaster's developer homepage

Screenshot of Chinese language used in an image found on CleanMaster’s developer homepage.

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • Lack of transparency regarding ownership as corporate information on the developer was impossible to find. CleanMaster is most likely being a fictitious entity with no links to its true owners.
  • The VPN app’s website is hosted on a non-secure HTTP domain, with no meaningful information about the company that developed the app.
  • CleanMaster’s eight applications, with over 38 million installs combined, disappeared from the Play Store simultaneously on January 13 2022. This development occurred during the period of our investigation.
  • Our previous Free VPN Security Investigation revealed that CleanMaster shares users’ Google advertising ID and device information with Facebook and app marketing data service, Adjust. Users’ real IP addresses are also shared with Google’s advertising platform, DoubleClick.
  • Support email is on a generic ProtonMail domain, a poor indicator for trust.
  • We contacted the CleanMaster via their customer support email under the guise of a normal user to confirm the legal entity managing user data and where the company was incorporated, however no response has been received at the time of publication.

Daily VPN – безопасный VPN

App Info

  • Installs: 10 million
  • Listed Developer: Daily VPN
  • App ID: com.get.squidvpn
  • App Website: dailyvpn.io
  • Support email: [email protected] or [email protected]
  • VPN App Name Aliases: Squid VPN

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Official Company Name: UpUp Technology Limited
  • Company No: 2905291
  • Corporate Website: upupfly.com
  • Play Store Listing Address: Undisclosed
  • Registered Address: Room 1508, 15/F, Phase 2, Grand Plaza Office Building, 625 Nathan Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong
  • Company Director: Li, Wanwan – Chinese national – Beijing, China address (full details redacted but available on public record)
  • Shareholder Name: Li, Wanwan – Chinese national
  • Shareholder Address: Beijing, China address (full details redacted but available on public record)

China Links

  • Company director and sole shareholder, Wanwan Li, is a Chinese national who resides in mainland China
  • UpUp Technology Limited is incorporated in Hong Kong

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • UpUp Technology Limited has previously traded as “GetSquidVpn” and “Professional VPN”.
  • This VPN app was previously analyzed as part of our 2019 Android VPN Risk Index research, which revealed intrusive permissions, such as CAMERA and WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE. At the time it was marketed as SquidVPN, however it shares the APK file name of com.get.squidvpn with Daily VPN.
  • The com.get.squidvpn APK was also found to contain code relating to the collection of a user’s last known location, unique device information, and the operation of their device’s camera.

VPN Master Pro – Fast & Secure

The developer of this VPN app is VPM Master, which also operates the VPN Master app. These apps were among the most popular VPN apps during the Nigeria and India internet disruptions cited in this report.

Jump to the full ownership details of the VPN Master apps, as outlined in the Nigeria section of this report.

RavoVPN

Five Oceans Technology, the company that owns this VPN app, also operates the FastVPN service. FastVPN was among the most downloaded VPN apps during the Nigerian Twitter ban and during the Indian internet shutdown specified in this report.

Jump to the full ownership details of the RavoVPN and FastVPN apps, as outlined in the Nigeria section of this report.

India VPNs: Full Details

Authorities in India regularly restricted access to the internet during the past 12 months due to protests, conflict, and even exams. In total, the shutdowns cost the economy at least $500 million.

VPN demand often spikes before and during the restrictions. In March, VPN demand rose 61% during a shutdown that was imposed in Karnataka. However, many of the most popular apps have opaque ownership structures and several have links to China.

On the 23rd and 27th of October, authorities in Jaipur restricted access to the internet because of local exams. The following apps were popular on the Google Play Store as of 26 October 2021.

Global VPN – Hotspot VPN Proxy

App Info

  • Installs: 5 million
  • Listed Developer: Super App Developer
  • App ID: vpn.global.free.proxy.super
  • App Website: freesupervpn.com
  • Support email: [email protected]
  • VPN App Name Aliases: Snail VPN

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Registered Company Name: Free Link Pte. Ltd.
  • Company No: 202019919R
  • Corporate Website: freelinkapp.com
  • Play Store Listing Address: Undisclosed
  • Registered Address: 3 Shenton Way, #09-02 Shenton House, Singapore 068805
  • Company Directors:
    • Fu Lin – Chinese national with Chongqing, China address (full details redacted but available on public record)
    • Cher Li Keow – Singaporean national, Singapore address (full details redacted but available on public record)
  • Shareholders: Fu Lin, as above

China Links

  • Director and sole shareholder, Fu Lin, is a Chinese national that resides in mainland China.

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • It was very difficult to identify Free Link Pte. Ltd. as the legal entity trading as Super App Developer. As far as we could determine, this is not publicly disclosed anywhere. We only found it because:
    • The developer’s support email was the same as that listed on the snailvpn.com domain, which allowed us to connect the two; and
    • As part of a prior free VPN investigation, we had an archived Apple App Store listing showing the Free Link Pte. Ltd. name for a developer then known as Snail Inc, whose site was on the snailvpn.com domain.
  • Free Link Pte. Ltd. director Fu Lin also owns AppSuperb Pte. Ltd., which operates the Fast VPN and Safe VPN apps.[7][8] It is not disclosed anywhere on the store listings for these apps however that they are owned and operated by the same person.
  • Free Link has also until very recently operated four other Android VPN apps with a combined 21.5 million installs:
    • SuperVPN – com.snailvpn.androidproxy
    • Space VPN – com.spacevpn.vpn.proxy
    • Super VPN Lite – com.supervpn.proxy.android
    • Shield VPN – com.vpn.shield.freevpn.proxy
  • The Global VPN store listing does not link to a privacy policy. The listing does link to the developer’s website, however that only features a privacy policy for a differently-named VPN.
  • Global VPN disappeared from the Play Store during our investigation, despite racking up over 5 million downloads in just four months after first appearing in September 2021.

Potential Conflicts of Interest

  • Free Link Pte. Ltd.’s primary business activity is recorded as “Advertising activities”, secondary to publishing and development of applications.
  • This is particularly concerning as Super App Developer is also the developer and manager of data for six other VPN applications.
  • In combination these apps have over 21.5 million downloads, providing a potentially large database for advertising business activities.

Mystery Lite

App Info

  • Installs: 10 million
  • Listed Developer: Mystery Solutions Pte. Ltd.
  • App ID: com.lite.mystery.unlock
  • App Website: mystery-lite.web.app
  • Support email: [email protected]

Who’s behind this VPN?

  • Registered Company Name: Pixl Solutions Pte. Ltd.
  • Company No: 201943748W
  • Corporate Website: pixl.world
  • Play Store Listing Address: Undisclosed
  • Registered Address: 7 Temasek Boulevard, #12-07, Suntec Tower One, Singapore 038987
  • Company Director: Toh Han Wei – Singaporean national, Singapore address (full details redacted but available on public record)
  • Shareholder Name: Toh Han Wei, as above

Corporate Credibility Issues

  • The company’s address is listed as “22 Cross Street, Singapore, S048421” which is a shared co-working space, a not ideal arrangement for privacy-focused work.
  • Mystery Lite’s website is of minimal utility and contains scant information on the developers or the VPN service itself
  • The VPN service’s privacy policy admits to transferring and processing personal data overseas, outside of the Singapore jurisdiction, however fails to disclose where this may be.
  • We were only able to determine Pixl Solutions Pte. Ltd. was the legal entity behind the Mystery Lite VPN service by combing through old third-party app store listings, which is not something a typical user would expect to do to.
  • The switch to the official-sounding company name Mystery Solutions Pte. Ltd., which does not actually exist as a legal entity, suggests deliberate misdirection of Play Store users on the part of this VPN service provider.

Potential Conflict of Interest

  • Pixl Solutions director Toh Han Wei is also an officer at an advertising company called Papaya Mobile Pte. Ltd. (202022172D), based in Singapore.

FastVPN

Five Oceans Technology, the company that owns this VPN app, also operates the RavoVPN service. The two apps were among the most downloaded VPN apps during the Nigeria Twitter ban and the January 2022 Kazakhstan internet disruptions.

Jump to the full ownership details of the RavoVPN and FastVPN apps, as outlined in the Nigeria section of this report.

Smart Clean-Booster, Cleaner

This is a multi-purpose app, which also includes a VPN service, was also among the most downloaded apps during the Kazakh internet disruptions.

Jump to the full ownership details of the Smart Clean-Booster, Cleaner app, as outlined in the Kazakhstan section of this report.

VPN Master Pro – Fast & Secure

The developer of this VPN app is VPM Master, which also operates the VPN Master app. These apps were among the most popular VPN apps during the Nigeria and Kazakhstan internet outages cited in this report.

Jump to the full ownership details of the VPN Master apps, as outlined in the Nigeria section of this report.

Methodology

We identified the five most-downloaded VPN apps during major internet shutdowns in Myanmar, Nigeria, Kazakhstan and India using data from the SensorTower app intelligence platform.

Due to some overlap between the top five VPN apps in these four countries, the total number of apps we investigated was 17 in total.

To identify whether an app had disclosed their official company name or verifiable address we analyzed the app’s website, privacy policy and Google Play Store listing. Where it was not disclosed, we used information in the public domain to determine the ownership of the companies operating these VPN services. Where necessary, we also analyzed the code base of the apps in an attempt to glean any clues about who developed them.

We redacted individuals’ personal information from this public-facing report in order to avoid potentially putting them at risk. However, we have created an archive of all documentation used to create this report, which we will make available to appropriate journalists and researchers on request and at our discretion.

Download the full findings, sans redacted data.

The authors of all our investigations abide by the journalists’ code of conduct.

References

[1] https://www.wired.co.uk/article/china-personal-data-law

[2] https://blog.cloudflare.com/announcing-warp-plus/

[3] https://coinroro.com/warning-kucoins-hong-kong-office-is-empty/

[4] http://vr.sina.com.cn/news/hz/2021-07-02/doc-ikqciyzk3104927.shtml

[5] https://web.archive.org/web/20180401085505/http://www.hehemobi.com/

[6] https://web.archive.org/web/20220120110253/https://tap2free.net/privacy/united-states/Privacy-Policy-of-USA-VPN-by-tap2free.html

[7] https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=AppsuperbTeam

[8] https://apps.apple.com/am/developer/appsuperb-pte-ltd/id1573873922