Psiphon is not private
Logging & Jurisdiction
We cannot recommend any VPN with a logging policy like Psiphon's. It keeps track of almost everything about you and what you do while connected. For a tool designed to be used in highly-censored countries, this has potentially dangerous implications.
Psiphon started as a project at Citizen Lab, University of Toronto, but 2007 it was made into an independent corporation, Psiphon Inc., also based in Toronto.
Being incorporated in Canada makes the company subject to highly intrusive surveillance laws and intelligence-sharing agreements with other countries such as the UK and USA.
When sharing information with third parties, Psiphon claims to ‘only ever [provide] coarse, aggregate domain-bytes statistics’ – meaning it never shares per-session information or any other information that could link your online activity back to you.
However, Psiphon clearly states that its software should not be considered a privacy tool and, therefore, we don’t recommend it as one.
Here are some privacy-friendly VPNs you should consider instead.
At the very least, Psiphon doesn’t require any you to give over any payment information or email details before using the free app, which we like.
Psiphon collects the following information:
- Connection timestamps
- Chosen connection protocol
- Session count and duration
- Total bytes transferred and bytes transferred for some specific domains
- Your ISP
- Aggregated server data
- Region codes
- This is defined as your country and city which are obtained through your IP address, but Psiphon claims to discard this information immediately
Psiphon admits to inspecting domain names (websites) users visit while connected, but not full URLs.
Psiphon is supported by ads, and it does share statistics with sponsors so they can see, for example, how often their sites are visited through Psiphon and from which countries. These are further aggregated by date, sponsor and region.
All of the data Psiphon collects is discarded after “at most” 90 days, which is a little longer than we’d like.
The logs are used mainly for troubleshooting purposes and to ‘determine the nature of major censorship events’, where sites and services can be suddenly blocked without warning.
Psiphon specifically states that it will not give detailed or ‘potentially user-identifying information’ to partners or any other third parties, but we still don’t recommend it for those seeking high levels of privacy.
Slow VPN speeds, even slower proxy speeds
Speed & Reliability
The free version of Psiphon VPN is slow. The mobile apps limit speeds to just 2Mbps, which is too low for almost all web activities. On Windows, speeds are limited by Psiphon’s automatic server location, which doesn’t correspond to your physical location.
We calculated Psiphon’s speed performance by comparing our internet speeds before and after connecting to a VPN server.
Here are our full speed test results:
Local Speed Test results before using Psiphon Free:
- Download Speed: 97.69Mbps
- Upload Speed: 98.52Mbps
- Ping: 3ms
Local Speed Test results with Psiphon Free:
Download speed loss when Psiphon Free is running: 94%
Psiphon doesn’t let you select a VPN server in a specific country when you’re using the Windows VPN service, so we were only able to test performance on the automatically selected server, which was located in Singapore. Not great considering we test from the UK.
We registered speeds of around 1Mbps up and 5Mbps down, which is super slow and just about enough for general browsing and low definition video streaming. Of course, you may get better speeds if Psiphon connects you to a nearby VPN server, but this isn’t guaranteed.
While the apps for Android and iOS allow you to choose from around 20 server locations, they throttle VPN (and proxy) speeds to just 2Mbps up and down.
You can pay for the premium version of Psiphon to experience “maximum speeds,” but $9.99 a month for just 5Mbps is a terrible deal.
Psiphon isn’t intended to be used for HD streaming, torrenting, or gaming, so if you’re looking to unblock censored sites, slow speeds shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Psiphon doesn't work for streaming
Psiphon isn't designed for streaming, so we can't fault it too harshly for not delivering. We were able to access both BBC iPlayer and All 4, but speeds are so slow that Full HD video is constantly buffering.
While we unblocked BBC iPlayer during our Android and iOS tests – since these apps give access to UK servers – it took a long time for the video to load due to slow speeds. All 4 also worked in our tests.
In Psiphon’s defense, the tool was never intended for bypassing streaming geo-blocks. However, we expect the best anti-censorship tool to be able to do so, just like we found while testing ExpressVPN.
Psiphon isn't good for private torrenting
Psiphon is a surprisingly fast torrenting VPN. Its real issues lie with its logging policy, security standards, and lack of features. Your file may well get downloaded quickly, but this is neither a private nor secure way to go about it.
We don’t recommend using Psiphon for torrenting or P2P due to the fact that Psiphon explicitly says that it’s not a privacy tool.
Psiphon doesn’t come with a VPN kill switch and it leaks DNS requests on the Windows app.
Its download speeds are admittedly impressive, but that’s not a good enough reason to use this VPN for torrenting.
Strong encryption but lacking in any other security/privacy features
Security & Features
Psiphon shouldn't be used as a tool for privacy and security. It uses the outdated L2TP/IPSec protocol, none of its apps include a kill switch, and it leaks your data through WebRTC.
Psiphon is very transparent about online privacy on its website and says that the software “does not increase your online privacy, and should not be considered or used as an online security tool.”
The VPN operates exclusively on L2TP/IPSec rather than our preferred protocol OpenVPN. It’s fairly secure when used in combination with AES 256-bit encryption, but it’s needlessly weaker than the competition.
Psiphon’s proxies use SSH, SSH+ (obfuscated), and HTTP configurations. You can use the split tunneling tool with proxy configurations which tunnels server requests made within your home country outside of Psiphon’s servers, giving you faster access to these sites and reducing data usage.
Because Psiphon’s main goal is to access blocked content through the SSH+ proxy service, the apps don’t provide many advanced privacy settings at all. There’s no VPN kill switch feature, which would help to prevent your IP address from being exposed in the case of a connection drop.
While Cure53’s 2017 security audit of Psiphon revealed “no noteworthy security risks,” we did experience a few leaks during our testing which affected both the VPN and the proxy service.
We found WebRTC leaks while testing the proxies and DNS leaks while testing the Windows VPN. Both of these security flaws leave your personal data exposed to any snooping third parties.
Proxy service works in China, the VPN service doesn't
The ability to beat strict web censorship is Psiphon's entire selling point. The fact that the VPN service doesn't work in China is a huge disappointment. You can still use its proxy service to access the web, but your traffic will be left unencrypted.
Michael Hull, president of Psiphon, says there are 200,000 daily active users of the service in China.
But it’s not the VPN service that beats the Great Firewall – it’s Psiphon’s proxy service.
Psiphon warns users that the VPN configuration (L2TP, or Transport Mode) does not have strong censorship circumvention capabilities. In other words, Psiphon VPN is blocked in China.
The only way to connect out from these high-censorship locations is by using Psiphon’s proxy servers, as they provide additional layers of obfuscation (SSH+).
While the SSH proxies do encrypt traffic, encryption is limited to your browser traffic, leaving other apps unprotected. This means that if you want high levels of privacy you should steer clear.
Psiphon openly states that it isn’t designed to increase your online privacy, and shouldn’t be considered or used as an online security tool.
There are VPN services out there that work reliably in China, while providing strong privacy and security. You can read about our best VPN recommendations for China here.
One of the reasons that Psiphon’s proxy service is so popular in countries like China is that it provides a simple way for users to download the software from countries that block VPN websites and download pages, including Psiphon’s.
Users can send an email to [email protected] in order to receive the downloads and bypass government blocks, which is a good idea and something we haven’t seen before.
For that reason, if you find yourself unable to download one of our recommended China VPNs may find Psiphon a very useful tool for getting past government blocks. But be aware that Psiphon is not the most secure option.
One positive is that Psiphon can be used within China to gain access to the download page for a better VPN.
20+ locations available on mobile, no server selection for Windows
Psiphon has a good number of server locations if you're on mobile, but the global spread is very poor. Users in Africa, Central or South America, and Oceania are given no options at all. And on desktop, you don't even get a choice of what server you're connected to.
The number of Psiphon VPN servers available depends on the app you’re using. Psiphon’s Android app provides the most choice with 27 VPN server locations in total and the iOS app has 25:
- Czech Republic
- United Kingdom
- United States
*Available for Android, but not iOS
**Available for iOS, but not for Android
Psiphon’s Windows app does have 27 proxy server locations but if you want to use the Psiphon’s VPN service, you can’t choose which VPN server to connect to. Instead the app chooses for you, and it may not be a server location that’s convenient for you.
The majority of Psiphon’s VPN servers are in Europe and North America, covering popular locations like the US, Canada, the UK, and France. There are three servers located in Asia-Pacific: India, Japan, and Singapore.
Psiphon provides no servers in South America, Africa, or Australia, and you can’t drill down to city level in any of the country locations. If you need access to country-specific content, be sure to check that Psiphon provides a server in that location.
Usually being so far away from a VPN server would negatively impact performance, but considering speeds are throttled to 2Mbps on the basic plan, it won’t really make a lot of difference whether you connect to a nearby country or not – Psiphon will always be slow.
Psiphon doesn’t state how many servers it maintains nor whether it owns those servers or rents them from a third party.
Available on Windows, Android, iOS, but only on M1 chip Macs
Platforms & Devices
Psiphon has apps for Windows, Apple Silicon Macs, iOS, and Android. It can be downloaded from Psiphon’s website, the App Store, Google Play Store, or can be emailed to you if you live in a country that prohibits access to the site.
There are some basic setup guides you can refer to but nothing comprehensive, which is hardly surprising considering the software is free to use.
Beware that there are some fake Psiphon apps available outside of the official app stores, and one has been found to contain malicious spyware. Psiphon provides instructions so that you can verify if your Psiphon download is authentic.
If you’ve already downloaded a fake Psiphon app, read our Is Someone Spying On Your Phone? guide to find out how to check for and remove any spyware apps on your device.
Quick setup & easy to use but lacks contextual help
Ease of Use
It's not particularly good-looking, but Psiphon is still a simple enough app to use. Our main criticism is that, with so many niche proxy features, it would benefit from some extra explainer text and clearer language.
How to Install & Set Up Psiphon Free
The Psiphon apps are quick and easy to download and set up. They require no registration or email address.
Once installed, the apps are simple to use but do have a few annoying features that could catch you out if you don’t know what to look out for.
Each time you connect to the VPN a separate browsing tab opens displaying your new IP address. We’d much prefer this to be displayed within the app.
The Windows app also defaults to proxy mode, as this is Psiphon’s main anti-censorship tool, so if you want to use the VPN you’ll need to go to ‘Transport Mode’ in the settings tab and toggle on L2TP/IPSec mode.
For Android, you need to make sure that ‘Tunnel Whole Device’ is enabled in order to use the VPN, and for iOS be sure to use the main Psiphon app and not Psiphon Browser for iOS, which is a proxy.
There is also a huge degree of localization available on Psiphon’s apps (although not every language is on both mobile and desktop) – over 40 languages. The Android app offers multiple Asian and African languages (including Korean, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Oromo, Swahili, Shona, etc.), as well as Arabic, Turkish, Russian, Hindi, English, Portugese, Spanish, and many more.
For non-English speakers – particularly those who don’t speak any European languages – Psiphon may be the only VPN available in your native language.
Very basic online resources & substandard customer support
Some decent online resources are Psiphon's main medium for customer support. There's an email address, too, although it's far too difficult to find on the website. The responses we received were detailed and technical, although after a few messages Psiphon's support simply stopped responding to us.
Psiphon’s customer support is very limited, even if you’re a paying customer. There is no live chat support, which is disappointing.
There are FAQs on its website which cover basic troubleshooting issues, app compatibility, and a few other potential problems, but not much else. The user guide shows you how to use the Windows and Android apps too.
The only way to contact the Psiphon support team is via the email address on their website. We had sent them queries in the past, and they did reply with a very comprehensive responses, but recently our emails have gone unanswered.
For a VPN with so many complexities and features, combined with the high-stakes nature of bypassing governement web filters, Psiphon must provide a better level of customer support.
Primarily a free service, with an expensive premium plan
Price & Value for Money
We have reviewed the free version of Psiphon on this page. However there are premium versions available. While we haven't tested them fully, we have provided a breakdown of their costs and payment models.
Psiphon is free to download and use on Windows, Android, macOS, and iOS devices. However, mobile users have the option of ‘upgrading’ to an ad-free version that isn’t capped at 2Mbps, granting “maximum speeds” – which are only 5Mbps.
The cost of this varies by device and length of subscription – the longer you sign up for the cheaper it works out on a monthly basis.
The ad-free plans costs $2.99 per week for iOS or $4.99 for Android. You can pay monthly, which is $9.99 for both Android and iOS.
iPhone users can also save just under 20% by signing up to the yearly plan, which works out at $8.33 a month.
US$8.33/moBilled $99.99 each year - iOS only
US$9.99/moBilled $9.99 every month for iOS and Android users
Payment & Refund Options
Android and iOS users wishing to upgrade to Psiphon Pro are limited to the payment options accepted by the App Store and Google Play Store:
Psiphon is primarily a free service but offers a 30-day free trial if you choose to sign up to Psiphon Pro for Android, or a three-day free trial for iOS.
Because this is done in-app, just be sure to cancel via the App Store or Google Play Store before the end of the free trial to avoid being charged. This is a great way to run a few speed tests and investigate whether or not the performance boost is worth spending a little bit extra on each month.
In the absence of a Pro app on Windows and macOS, you are restricted solely to PsiCash.
PsiCash is a premium currency purchasable only through the Psiphon app while it’s connected. With it, you can purchase a speed boost. The speed boost takes Psiphon’s cap from 2Mbps to 5Mbps – which is still horrifically slow.
PsiCash is, to be blunt, as pretty terrible deal. 1,000 PsiCash costs $1.00. One day of barely-increased speeds costs 800 PsiCash. That means that a whole year of the higher speed cap will cost you $292 in PsiCash. That is, with no exaggeration, the worst deal we have ever seen from any VPN.
Even Psiphon's supposed strengths aren't that strong
The Bottom Line
Psiphon is an honest VPN which markets itself as a censorship circumvention tool. It doesn’t claim to keep you secure or private, nor is it meant to work with streaming services or keep you safe while torrenting.
But Psiphon’s greatest sin is that it’s not even that good at the one thing it strives for. There are a number of better censorship-beating VPNs out there, available at very fair prices.
Psiphon is slow, insecure, and logs far too much data. There’s no real reason to use it. Instead, consider the two VPNs below.
Alternatives to Psiphon Free
Astrill is the best VPN for beating censorship - it's in a league of its own. In all the months we've been testing VPNs in China, it's never failed us once. Read Astrill review
If you don't want to spend any money, Windscribe Free is a superior VPN to Psiphon in almost every way. It's great for bypassing web blocks, but is also fast and safe. Read Windscribe review