Australians can sometimes feel a bit isolated from the rest of the world. Even on the internet, Australia is often the last priority among English-speaking nations when it comes to popular products and services.
That means fewer options and in some cases no options at all when Australians want to stream a TV show, play a video game, or listen to music. The lack of choice can lead to increased piracy of copyrighted material. In December 2016, a federal court in Australia ordered internet service providers to block BitTorrent tracker sites including ThePirateBay, Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt and SolarMovie.
This unfortunate reality is compounded by the country’s less-than-stellar data retention laws. Australian telecom companies are required to monitor and record customers metadata, including information about their phone calls, texts, emails, and location.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Australia is a market ripe for VPN providers. A VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts a device’s internet traffic and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of the user’s choosing. This can allow Australians to access content that’s geolocked in their own country. It can also provide a private tunnel through which to use P2P filesharing applications.
We narrowed down our list of the best VPNs for Australia based on the following criteria:
- Network of servers in APAC
- Torrenting allowed
- Capable of unblocking Netflix and other streaming services
- No traffic logs policy
ExpressVPN operates servers in 78 countries, 20 of them in APAC alone. Torrenting is allowed on all servers. It’s consistently performed well in our unblocking tests and our speed tests so is a good option for streaming. It can unblock both the US and Australian Netflix catalogs in a browser as well as in the Netflix app. It keeps no traffic logs and is based in the British Virgin Islands, where it is not subject to any data retention laws. ExpressVPN makes apps for Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux (command line) and some wifi routers.
Read our full ExpressVPN Review.
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NordVPN operates servers in over 50 countries with 12 in Asia Pacific. Torrenting is allowed on all servers. It’s on par with ExpressVPN when it comes to unblocking streaming services. It can bypass the Netflix proxy firewall in the US and Australia alike. It keeps zero logs of any kind and is based in Panama, where it is not subject to any data retention laws. NordVPN also offers special servers optimized for privacy and high speed downloads, such as ultra-fast streaming, double hop VPN, Tor over VPN, and anti-DDoS.
Read our full review of NordVPN.
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StrongVPN operates servers in 21 countries, six of which are in APAC. Torrenting is allowed on all servers. It can unblock both Australian and US Netflix in a browser, but not in the Netflix app. StrongVPN has a no-logs policy and is based in the United States. Whereas most other VPNs on this list primarily rely on the OpenVPN protocol, StrongVPN is a mix of OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, and SSTP. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
Read our full StrongVPN Review.
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Buffered operates servers in 37 countries, six of which are in APAC. Torrenting is allowed on all servers. It can unblock US Netflix in a browser, but unfortunately not in an app and not in Australia. Buffered is a good option for desktop users on Windows and MacOS, and allows up to five simultaneous connections. Unfortunately, mobile users will have to resort to third-party OpenVPN apps because there are no iOS or Android apps yet.
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IPVanish operates hundreds of servers in 60 countries, including 12 in APAC. It owns all of its own physical servers resulting in some of the fastest download speeds available from any VPN. Those speeds cannot be put toward streaming Netflix, however, as IPVanish is currently not able to unblock Netflix. It’s a good option for P2P filesharers. Torrenting traffic is allowed on all servers. The company is based in the US but has a strict no logs policy.
Read our full IPVanish review
VPNs to avoid in Australia
One of the biggest motivations for using a VPN is to increase security and privacy while online. Unfortunately, not all VPNs do this, and some can even inhibit or reduce your privacy.
Israel-based Hola isn’t a traditional VPN in which customers connect to a network of centralized servers owned by the VPN company. Instead, Hola users connect to each other, using other users’ idle bandwidth as part of a large peer-to-peer network. Obviously, this comes with some pretty big security and legal concerns. Users could use each other’s internet for illegal activity, for example. In 2015, Hola used its user’s computers to create a botnet and perform a massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. The abuse of customers’ trust happened entirely without their knowledge.
In 2011, a LulzSec hacker was arrested for his involvement with an attack on the Sony Pictures website. Cody Kretsinger used HideMyAss VPN to conceal his identity, but the company complied with a court order to hand over evidence that led to his arrest. This occurred in spite of the company’s pledge not to keep any logs of user activity. HMA says it does not log the contents of its users’ internet traffic, but it does keep detailed metadata logs that include users’ real IP addresses, which was enough to charge Kretsinger with a crime.
Now that the UK has passed the Snooper’s Charter, which requires service providers to maintain detailed logs of what their users do online, UK-based HideMyAss seems like the last service any privacy-conscious person would want to sign up for.
A recent FTC complaint alleges Hotspot Shield has been hijacking HTTP requests for e-commerce sites and directing users to affiliate sites instead. If true, that would be an unforgivable abuse of users’ trust. Hotspot Shield is already known for the shady practice of inserting tracking cookies and advertisements into users browsers whenever they use the service, which clearly defeats the purpose of using a VPN. Hotspot Shield is primarily a free service but also has a premium tier. We suggesting keeping your distance from both.
Avoid free VPNs
It might be tempting to use a free VPN instead of a paid one, but we strongly advise against it. With very few exceptions, free VPNs are either seriously limited or invade your privacy to mine personal data, which is then sold off to third-party advertisers.
Free VPNs often have data caps, bandwidth limits, and even queues. Server selection is limited. Some will inject advertisements into your browser and use tracking cookies to monitor your behavior. This actually reduces your privacy and defeats the purpose of a VPN.
Will a VPN help avoid Australia’s data retention law?
A VPN provides a great many privacy protections that we think everyone should take advantage of. However, within the specific context of Australia’s 2015 data retention law, they won’t do much good.
Google is full of articles claiming that a VPN will prevent ISPs from gathering metadata, but unfortunately that is not true. A VPN hides the contents of your internet traffic and your location from the outside world, but you still have to rely on your ISP’s network to get there. Strictly speaking a VPN cannot prevent an ISP from logging your location, device details, and traffic volume.
We’ve explained this in greater detail in our article on the Australian data retention law. There you can also find other means of avoiding the data retention policies.
P2P filesharing in Australia
Torrenting copyrighted material is a crime in Australia, but there’s little enforcement. It’s rare for copyright holders to successfully sue ISPs for torrenters’ identities, whom they can then request remuneration from using a practice called speculative invoicing.
A “three-strikes” rule in which ISPs would notify torrenters on behalf of copyright holders was canned last year due to disputes over implementation costs.
In 2016, a federal court in Australia ordered ISPs to block BitTorrent tracker sites including ThePirateBay, Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt and SolarMovie. These can still be accessed with any of the VPNs we listed above.
Comparitech does not condone or encourage piracy. Please stick to legal torrents.