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Aimee O'Driscoll on in VPN

Hide My Ass! (HMA!) is a UK-based company, with its claim to fame being its huge number of subscribers — today it has more than 400 million. This provider has seen its fair share of controversy with regards to user privacy. It recently made updates to it service in the hopes of redeeming itself and winning back the loyalty of its subscribers.

We took it for a test run to see how much it has improved and whether it’s worth the money.

Features and pricing

Hide My Ass! offers one product with prices varying depending on the length of term you sign up for. It’s definitely not one of the cheapest services available, which might be an immediate turnoff for some users. A 12-month plan will set you back $6.99 per month, which is higher than the average price for a similar term. What’s more, a lot of top VPN providers will offer an extended plan; for example, a two- or three-year term with even steeper discounts.

Hide My Ass pricing table.

If you’re not ready to sign up for a one-year term just yet, HMA! does offer a six-month plan for $7.99 per month or you can pay on a monthly basis for $11.99 per month. These prices are a little above average when you compare to competitors.

Payment options include major credit cards, PayPal, and UnionPay. Unfortunately, for more privacy-conscious users, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies aren’t viable payment methods. There is a generous 30-day money-back guarantee, so if you’re not fully satisfied with the service, you can have your payment refunded.

So what do you get for your money? Hide My Ass! has a network of more than 850 servers in over 180 countries. Some are dedicated to accessing streaming sites and certain servers allow P2P filesharing (read: torrenting). All plans come with unlimited bandwidth and you can connect up to five devices simultaneously. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. The VPN can be manually configured with Linux and some routers. Pre-configured routers are available as an alternative.

From a security standpoint, HMA! offers strong encryption, perfect forward secrecy, automatic wifi protection, and the desktop apps come with a kill switch. However, the logging policy issues that plagued the service in the past remain, so privacy is still an issue.

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Setup and interface

Getting started with Hide My Ass! is super simple and the updated apps are very user-friendly. Once you sign up for your account, you’ll be given a license key. You can use this or your credentials (username and password) to log into any app. For the purpose of this review, we’ve tested out the Windows client and the iOS app.

Desktop

Once you’ve launched the desktop client and logged in, you’ll be greeted with the Success! screen. Simply click Got It! to access the main screen of the app. Here you have three choices for modes: Instant Mode, Location Mode, and Freedom Mode.

In Instant Mode, you can click the arrow and you’ll be connected to the fastest server for your current location.

HMA desktop app main screens.

In Location mode, you can choose which server you connect to. Click Change Location to see your options. There is a drop down list which enables you to choose servers based on different criteria. All will show you an alphabetized country list. Clicking on the arrow to the left of each country name will show you specific locations within that country.

Hide My Ass desktop locations.

Quick Access shows you a list of servers you’ve recently connected to, as well as some recommended options. Streaming will give you a choice of two servers suitable for unblocking popular streaming services like Netflix, one in the US and one in the UK.

Peer to Peer shows you all servers that allow P2P filesharing. Finally, there’s the Favorites option; to mark a server as a favorite, you can click the heart to the right of the server name.

Going back to the main screen, the one other option here is Freedom Mode, which is aimed at users who want to bypass censorship. This mode will connect you to a server in the closest country that is deemed to be free of censorship.

You can access the Settings by clicking the menu icon in the upper left-hand corner of the main screen and selecting Preferences. Here, you’ll see three tabs: General, Network Security, and Kill Switch. In the General screen, you can change your startup options, such as starting when you turn your computer on or when the app launches.

You also have a Personal Privacy section housing one option that relates to Quick Access in Location Mode. If you want to hide your recent history, you can uncheck the box.

HMA preferences general screen.

Next, we have the Network Security screen in which you can choose settings for automatic wifi protection. You can also turn on the IP shuffle feature which makes it more difficult for someone to detect your location by periodically changing your IP address. One more option in this screen lets you use TCP with OpenVPN. However, this is only recommended if UDP is blocked or throttled. TCP is more stable, but UDP is typically faster.

Hide My Ass Network Security screen,

The final tab is the Kill Switch tab, where you can toggle on this feature so that it works for all applications. You can also add single applications and decide whether or not to apply it to those.

HMA kill switch screen.

This is a fairly robust app and it’s definitely both aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-use.

Mobile

Many providers will have a mobile app that is unrecognizable compared to the desktop version. However, HMA! has streamlined its product, and the iOS app looks almost identical to the Windows version.

Once you’re logged in, you’ll get to the main screen, which is basically the same as the main screen in the desktop app. Here you can choose from Instant Mode, Location Mode, or Freedom Mode.

Hide My Ass mobile main screen.

The only real difference is that when you select Location Mode, your options are presented in a different manner. You have three tabs: Countries, Cities, and Favorites, but missing are the additional options found in the desktop client, such as Streaming, Peer to Peer, and Quick Access.

Hide My Ass mobile location screen.

To access the streaming servers from the app, you’ll have to go to the Cities list and find the Liberty Island server under US, New York. The UK, Donkey Town server can also be found on this list for access to UK Netflix and BBC iPlayer.

Moving on, the settings for the app can be accessed by clicking the menu icon in the top left-hand corner of the screen and selecting Settings. There you have two options: Connection Rules and Personal privacy.

Hide My Ass mobile settings screen.

In the Connection Rules section, you can adjust wifi security settings and decide whether to auto reconnect when wifi or cellular connections are interrupted.

HMA connection rules and settings.

The Personal privacy section just has one option: Share usage data with third parties for analytics, which is your consent to “allow app and device usage data to be shared with third parties for analytics.” Bear in mind that this is enabled by default so it might be one of the first things you want to turn off.

Overall, this is a sleek and intuitive app, but some users may be missing additional features such as a kill switch and the option to switch protocols.

Servers and performance

The Hide My Ass! network comprises more than 850 servers covering more than 190 countries. Some of these are virtual servers, but a customer service representative was unable to tell us how many.

As we discussed earlier, HMA offers many options for choosing the right server, including different modes and the ability to mark servers as favorites. Servers that allow P2P are marked with a P2P symbol.

We tested various servers in the US and the UK for performance in terms of browsing, streaming, and downloading. Overall, when browsing, there were no significant issues, aside from there being a noticeable slowdown in page load times when connected to a UK server. This isn’t uncommon for geographically distant servers (the tests were carried out in Toronto, Canada), but could be frustrating, especially for users with already slow internet speeds.

We didn’t see any lag or buffering while streaming 1080p using any of the test servers and were able to play online games with no issues.

HideMyAss! speed test performance

For any VPN that is compatible with our test methods, we run ongoing speed tests that have been designed to be as empirical as possible. We utilize a Canadian test server to connect to VPN servers in the US, the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, and Germany. For every location, we download a test file (50MB in size) from a US server. This is done four times per day at six-hour intervals. The average download speed for each test is recorded and the aggregate data is displayed.

You can see from the Simple chart below how HMA! compares to the other VPN services we’ve been testing. While it doesn’t have the fastest speeds, it is near the front of the pack when it comes to median download speeds.

By clicking the Detailed tab, you can see that the spread in results isn’t as tight as some of the other test VPNs. This means that you may see some inconsistency when it comes to speeds.

It’s important to note that these tests aren’t definitive and can only serve as a general indication of the performance you might see. The inherent volatility of the internet adds a significant factor of randomness. What’s more, you’ll likely see longer wait times with a slow connection, and perhaps smaller or larger discrepancies.

Does HideMyAss! unblock Netflix?

Yes, Hide My Ass! does unblock Netflix! But don’t expect to simply connect to any server and go. When we tested random servers with US Netflix using the desktop client, we had no luck whatsoever. However, if you select the Streaming option from the dropdown within Location Mode, you’ll see two choices: a US server (USA, New York, Liberty Island) and a UK server (UK, Donkey Town). Note that in the mobile app, you’ll have to find these within the Cities list in Location Mode.

Connecting to the US server gave us access to Netflix without issue. Connecting to the UK one enabled access to UK Netflix as well as BBC iPlayer. Many providers only focus on providing US Netflix access, so it’s refreshing to see one that strives to give access to the UK library too. What’s more, BBC iPlayer is seriously cracking down on VPN usage, so the ability to unblock this service is a nice perk.

If you’re looking for Amazon Prime Video, you might have to go elsewhere. HMA! Is having trouble unblocking this service at this time and a customer support representative informed us that there is no estimated timeframe for when it might be working again.

Does HideMyAss! work in China?

Hide My Ass! does not work reliably in China. It used to, but recent HMA! responses in support forums have indicated that the service will no longer work for some users. You could try your luck, but if you need a reliable China VPN, you’d best look elsewhere.

Security and privacy

Hide My Ass! is based in the UK, which means it’s subject to data retention laws. The UK is also a Five Eyes (and Fourteen Eyes) country, which means it is part of an alliance that allows monitoring by external governments. Plus, it’s home to the Snooper’s Charter which imposes regulations on British ISPs that greatly affect user privacy.

For many VPNs, data retention laws in their home country aren’t really an issue. This is because they operate with a real no-logs policy whereby they don’t keep any traffic or connection logs. Even if they do keep connection logs, they can’t be tied to an individual user.

Unfortunately, HMA! is not one of these VPNs and has a privacy policy that most users will find off-putting. For one, when using the service, you can expect that your IP address will be logged, along with timestamps and the amount of data used. This is a big no-no for VPNs in general. Although an IP address isn’t universally considered to be personally identifiable information, the fact is that this information can and has been used to trace the activity of individuals. IP addresses have been used in countless cases to help find and convict criminals. While we certainly don’t condone criminal actions, we are pro-privacy, and this policy simply doesn’t cut it.

Moreover, Hide My Ass! logs the VPN IP address connected to a session. This is the IP address that a website operator can view and record when you visit it. Since both the real and VPN IP addresses are logged, between the VPN and end site logs, it would technically be possible to piece together all of a user’s internet activity. You may have seen news of a 2011 FBI case involving HMA! in which it handed over logs that were used to track down a LulzSec hacker. Clearly, this is a black mark for privacy.

One way to make this less of an issue and to perhaps confuse things a bit would be to take advantage of the IP address shuffle feature. When enabled in the Network Security screen of the desktop app, this periodically switches your IP address out for a different one. It wouldn’t make you untraceable but could add a layer of obfuscation.

Privacy issues aside, on the security front, Hide My Ass! fares pretty well. It uses 256-bit AES encryption, which is considered military-grade. This is in conjunction with 4096-bit RSA keys and perfect forward secrecy. It uses the OpenVPN protocol over UDP by default, but you can switch to TCP within the desktop client. PPTP, L2TP, IPSec are also available, depending on which app you’re using.

The desktop versions boast a built-in kill switch which can be tailored to work for specific apps. A kill switch will kill the internet connection should the VPN connection drop for some reason. This feature isn’t available in the mobile apps

A live chat customer service representative informed us that there is no DNS leak protection. However, a different company representative assured us that there is in fact DNS and IPv6 leak protection, but no WebRTC leak protection. Indeed, when we tested the service for leaks, we didn’t see any DNS leak issues other than WebRTC leaks. HMA! does use public DNS servers whereas private ones would be preferable from a privacy standpoint.

One handy feature that Hide My Ass! offers is automatic wifi protection, which can be customized in the in the Network Security section of the desktop client or the Connection Rules tab of the mobile app settings.

Customer service

If you need any help while setting up or using the service, HMA! has a couple of options for you to choose from. Clicking the Help tab on the website, you’ll find a Getting Started section and a Knowledge Base. These each house articles related to setting up, troubleshooting, and general questions. There’s some crossover so you may want to explore both before seeking other options.

In addition, you’ll find a Community button which leads to a forum section. This is segregated into different topics; some appear to be out of date, while others are recently active. Below that, there are some general FAQs.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for, or you just want a quick response, you can click the live chat button at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. The service is prompt and knowledgeable, and agents were able to quickly resolve most issues we encountered. At one point, a representative was unable to answer some security questions and advised he would escalate the issue as an email request. This was responded to in under two hours which is very quick for an email response.

Verdict

For the most part, HMA! offers a great service. It has fast speeds, unlimited bandwidth, and a decent network of servers. It’s able to unblock popular streaming services such as Netflix US, Netflix UK, and BBC iPlayer. Plus, it offers intuitive apps, strong security, and excellent customer support.

On the surface, it seems like HMA! would be a good option for torrenters, with no data caps and some servers suitable for P2P. However, the issues with the privacy policy are a concern for those looking to torrent, as well as any other privacy-conscious users. Indeed, this is the only major turn-off for this provider, but it’s a big one. Other concerns include the inability to work reliably in China and the somewhat hefty price tag.

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