VPNs have become popular and are often touted as a tool to improve privacy.
While this is sometimes true, it is important to tread carefully when
choosing an VPN. A good place to start is looking at which VPN providers
for running a trustworthy VPN service. A trustworthy VPNs must be free
software, that is non-negotiable. First, inspection is required in order
trust software. Having the source is the only way to see all the things the
software is doing. F-Droid reviews the apps that we ship on this website,
which lets us spot potential issues and anti-features. And we are happy to
hear that reputable VPN providers make the effort to get their apps on
f-droid.org to build trust with their users. From there, Reproducible
Builds provides a strong link
between the source code and the actual app binaries that run on the device.
The best VPNs are the ones that use free software both for the client app,
and for running the services. Indeed all OpenVPN, Shadowsocks, and
WireGuard VPNs are based on free software since those standards are defined
by free software projects. F-Droid looks into this as part of the reviews,
and marks apps with relevant Anti-Features, like the Non-Free Network
Services mark if the
server side is not free software. And there are a number of free software
projects that make it a lot easier to setup and run a VPN or proxy
services. Here are some that are on f-droid.org:
- Bitmask is a
generic client for the LEAP VPN setup which powers
Calyx VPN, Riseup
VPN, and more.
- eduVPN is a VPN client for
Let’s Connect VPN setup which powers
- OpenVPN for Android is
a generic OpenVPN client for any VPN provider that offers it.
- Outline is an
offering designed to let anyone run their own VPN based on Shadowsocks.
- WireGuard is a
generic WireGuard client for any provider
that offers it.
So far, none of the VPN providers have taken the plunge into fully
supporting reproducible builds. There is some progress: some of the releases
have been reproduced on our verification server. But these apps are not
setup for the full reproducible publishing setup, which confirms that the
f-droid.org version matches the upstream developer’s version exactly, then
publishes with the upstream signature. The F-Droid community is helping
more and more apps achieve reproducible builds, which VPN app will be the
There are also a number of apps that are dedicated to a given provider.
Although there are generic clients available, there are good reasons for a
free software provider to ship a custom app. First, it can make
configuration dead simple. Calyx VPN and Riseup VPN have no accounts at
all, so just install the app, and turn on the VPN. Second, it allows the
provider to include multiple methods of connecting and automatically switch
between them, depending on what works best. We decide which apps to include
based on what is best for the users. A VPN client that offers no additional
functionality and just serves as a rebrand of an existing client does not
serve users well. In order for an app from a specific provider to be
included, it must provide real value to our users. Here is a list of some
We also get lots of direct messages asking us to include various proprietary
VPN apps, or promote various VPN services for a fee. That is of course a
non-starter. The first step is free software.