The establishment of the modern French nation-state was predicated on the principles of liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, fraternity) – ideals institutionalized by the Third Republic towards the end of the 19th century.
The French have always valued privacy and security in their personal lives – a fact that extends into cyberspace as well. French regulators imposed a fine of US$166,777 on Facebook earlier this month purportedly because of concerns over the way it tracks user data “without legal cover.” Authorities added that the social media leviathan didn’t offer users sufficient warning about the methods it uses to extract information about their browsing habits.
Despite the official commitment to privacy, there are still myriad reasons to consider using a VPN to browse the web safely and securely in France.
Using a VPN will also unlock a host of geo-restricted content on sites like Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer. For French residents traveling abroad, using a VPN is also an excellent option if you wish to continue streaming local premium services such as Eurosport, Canal+, and Play TV.
Our list of the best VPNs for France is analyzed based on the following factors:
- Strong encryption parameters
- Speed and stability
- No usage logs
- Ability to unblock geo-restricted content such as Netflix
- Suitable for torrenting
ExpressVPN has a stated policy of not storing any user logs except for “dates (not times) when connected to our service, choice of server location, and the total amount of data transferred per day.”
Its encryption standards raise the bar when it comes to industry standards – using OpenVPN connections encrypted with 256-bit AES-CBC as default. 4,096-bit DHE-RSA certificates are identified by SHA-512 hashing algorithm. The service uses both HMAC authentication and perfect forward secrecy.
In our in-depth review of ExpressVPN we noticed that it streamed 1080p video seamlessly and exhibited zero lag when it came to online gaming. Its servers are optimized for speed and stability, making it one of the top VPNs on our list.
ExpressVPN is an excellent choice if you wish to use it for torrents and despite the Netflix ban, remains one of the few VPNs that’s able to circumvent it.
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IPVanish is one of the few VPN providers that physically owns the entirety of its server network (unlike others that also rent), making it a valuable ally in the quest to maintain anonymity on the web.
It keeps no records or logs about user browsing history except when people register for the first time. IPVanish uses 256-bit encryption on the OpenVPN protocol by default, SHA512 authentication and a DHE-RSE 2048 key exchange with perfect forward secrecy. DNS leak protection and a VPN kill switch is embedded within the system architecture.
IPVanish isn’t a great choice for unlocking geo-restricted content on Netflix – you can click here to see which VPNs we recommend for that – but it does offer impressive speeds so streaming video from YouTube or other platforms won’t be a hassle at all. Torrenting is definitely part of the package, and it also makes our list of the best VPNs for this specific purpose.
Read our full review of IPVanish Review here.
NordVPN has a true zero logs policy – it retains no data on the site’s users visit when connected to its servers, or the time, date, and duration of each session. Its servers have been confiscated, in at least one case, but there was no stored data that authorities could use to pinpoint users.
The default protocol that NordVPN uses is OpenVPN over TCP. It also has servers optimized for things like double VPN, Tor over VPN, anti-DDos, and video streaming. DNS leak protection and an internet kill switch are both included – making it one of the most robust VPNs when it comes to encryption parameters.
The VPN provider has been in the business for over a decade, and as our comprehensive review shows, it is capable of streaming HD video without any lag while also permitting online games with low latency and fast downloads. Unlimited torrenting is permitted.
VyprVPN is viewed as a premium service – given the fact that it owns its own servers rather than rent from a third-party – so it’s optimized for things like speed and stability of connection.
However, it does retain data on user behavior which might be troubling for some users. The company says it records “the user’s source IP address, the VyprVPN IP address used by the user, connection start and stop time, and total number of bytes used.”
The company is incorporated in Switzerland, which means it’s out of the reach of pesky government agencies from the US and UK. It uses the OpenVPN protocol, 256-bit AES encryption, 2,048-bit RSA keys without perfect forward secrecy, and SHA256 authentication.
If you subscribe for the service, you’ll see that DNS servers are included with DNS leak protection built-in. There’s also a kill switch embedded, meaning that VyprVPN will temporarily halt all traffic if the connection drops.
Vypr isn’t a great choice for torrenting – the company doesn’t permit this activity on its servers – but it does unblock geo-restricted content on services like Netflix and Hulu.
Read our full VyprVPN review here.
PureVPN doesn’t retain any data on user browsing history except for a timestamp and total amount of bandwidth used when connected to a server. The company is headquartered in Hong Kong which has no mandatory data retention laws – meaning it’s out of the reach of government agencies.
Torrenting is allowed on most servers but the service isn’t able to skirt around Netflix VPN restrictions. It uses 256-bit AES encrypted L2TP/IPSec protocol along with DNS leak protection and a VPN kill switch.
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Read our full PureVPN review here.
VPNs to avoid
In some cases VPN providers have been caught handing over user data to authorities or illegally mining browsing history to sell to 3rd party advertisers. Here are some we recommend you avoid:
Hide My Ass
In 2011 London-based Hide My Ass allegedly cooperated with US and UK authorities and handed over login data of 23-year-old Cody Kretsinger – accused of hacking Sony Pictures.
The incident pointed to a twisted philosophy at the company. It claimed to not record and store any user data – except for log-on and log-off time – but subsequent actions proved otherwise. You can read our Hide my Ass review here.
Israel-based Hola, which had developed a browser plugin designed to circumvent geo-restricted content, was caught engaging in a bunch of spurious activity – including selling your data to anyone willing to cough up the cash for it, diverting traffic through your personal internet connection, and continually monitoring browsing history.
Betternet comes up as a result if you search for a free VPN option and, from the outset, looks like a decent option given that it allows several simultaneous connections and is relatively fast. But it’s not a charity by any means – all the money it pays to rent server space and maintain a technical team is earned back via an ad platform it runs.
This ad platform accesses your cookies to bombard you with advertisements, suggested app installs, and other migraine-inducing content.
There’s always the option of finding a free VPN service – they’re hiding in plain sight and a casual search on Google or Reddit will definitely do the job. Technically such services don’t charge you any money for usage but that doesn’t mean they’re free by any yardstick.
Our recommendation is to avoid such options like the plague. They’re businesses too – meaning they need to make money in order to stay afloat – so they’ll bombard you with all sorts of nasty advertisements and sell your data to third-party companies for monetary compensation.
Contracting a malware infection is a definite possibility and forget about getting the same speed or customer service that paid VPN options offer. In the long run, you’re better off spending a few dollars and getting exemplary service – trust us, it’s worth it.
How to get a French IP address
If you’re a French resident that’s planning on living abroad for a bit, it’s likely that a bunch of local content will remain inaccessible if you log in from a foreign country. One way to circumvent this issue is by connecting to a VPN recommended above – all you have to do is select a French server before opening your internet browser and you should be good to go.
The advantages of getting a French IP address also go beyond accessing geo-restricted content. Your search engine will assume you’re in France – so it’ll show you the results most relevant to you and in your local language, if you prefer. Some French banking and financial institutions also require a local IP before allowing access to online services.
What is the future of French internet?
Emergency powers put in place by President Hollande in 2015 gave authorities sweeping powers to conduct house arrests, raids, and searches of electronic devices such as laptops, PCs, smartphones, and tablets without any warrants.
The same year, the French Constitutional Council approved most provisions of a new law that forces internet service providers to monitor the online behavior of suspicious users and relay that information back to intelligence agencies.
There are concerns that this law can be abused to establish a far-reaching surveillance apparatus which will directly impact the lives of all French residents, whether they like it or not.
These troubling developments make a compelling argument for using a VPN when browsing the web in France. Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN encrypts your internet traffic and routes it through a remote server, thereby shielding its content and destination from internet service providers, hackers, and government agencies like the NSA.
Even the United Nations committee for human rights has warned against the tenets of the law – saying it “grants overly broad powers for very intrusive surveillance on the basis of vast and broadly defined objectives.” It added that French authorities must balance the subsequent interference in private life according to defined principles of legality, proportionality, and necessity.
Not only does the law allow electronic monitoring of mobile devices, it also gives intelligence agencies the right to install secret cameras and recording devices in people’s homes. It’s also possible to install keylogger devices and metadata can be stored for up to five years.
Other advocacy bodies, such as Privacy International and La Quadrature du Net, also sharply criticised the developments, saying the poorly-drafted bill makes no provision for judicial authorisation and that the French parliament had “endorsed a fundamental decline in human rights.”