VPN Review: HideMyAss!
"I don't have anything to hide, why should I care about online privacy?" Data privacy activists are confronted with this argument, and others like it, on a nearly daily basis. The somewhat apocryphal 'Hawthorne effect' contends that everyone behaves differently, even when they simply think that they are being observed, while abuses of privacy should never be trivialized. All the more so if you have "nothing to hide".
HideMyAss flips the skeptics' argument, asserting that it is normal to want to hide things, imploring the service to do precisely that. With its crass name and cartoonish logo, the provider certainly draws quite a bit of attention to itself; our test shows whether this is justified, or just a load of horse sh...
What is HideMyAss?
HideMyAss (HMA), founded in 2005, is a UK-based VPN service. Since 2016, HMA has been owned by Avast, a Czech security software developer perhaps best known for their anti-virus programs. HMA meshes well with Avast's portfolio: Through its huge server network, users can protect their privacy and establish secure connections.
Pros and Cons
Massive server infrastructure, especially in regions typically ignored by other providers
Random IP selection feature
Good for streaming
Data logs and major privacy lapses
No information on server utilization
No split tunneling through the desktop client
Installation and Features
As soon as you have purchased an HMA license, you can connect the desktop client to your account in one of two ways: Either through logging in with your user data, or entering the activation code that you received following purchase of the license. You only need to log in once, as thereafter, you will always be automatically logged-in.
The service's applications are compatible with Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux. An HMA subscription allows registration and use of up to 5 devices at the same time, which is the industry average.
In HMA's chic desktop client, it is possible to alternate between 3 connections modes with nothing more than the click of a mouse. In 'instant mode', a connection is established to the nearest and best server; in 'freedom mode', you are connected to the nearest and best server with the least censorship, and in 'location mode', you can select the server you would like to connect to based on its location. 'Freedom mode' is especially handy for users in countries with repressive regimes or strict censorship laws.
In 'location mode', alongside the list of recommended countries and most recently used servers, there is also a search function which includes a drop-down menu with different server categories. Apart from the impressive list of countries that can be chosen from, which we will go into later, there is also the ability to select servers that are designed for P2P or video streaming. The list can be expanded, so that all countries can be seen, and an exact server location selected. A further list is also created from your favorites, which can be selected by clicking on the heart next to the server's location.
Unfortunately, despite all of its detail, the server lists don't provide any information about their usage, which could result in poor upload and download speeds, or high pings.
Settings can be accessed through the hamburger menu in the top left corner of the interface. Our favorite feature is random IP selection, which allows you to automatically change your IP address for a period of time, making tracking even more difficult. This is a handy function for added security that unfortunately, is rather uncommon among the other VPNs we tested. Apart from this, all of the standard settings, such as auto-start and a kill switch, are offered. In the Windows version of HMA, the kill switch allows you to select which apps will be disconnected if you lose your VPN connection. For Mac users, the function does not allow for this level of detail, with all apps disconnected should you lose your VPN connection. Why this approach, which is far more common, has not been integrated into the Windows client was a mystery to us.
VPN protocols can only be altered manually, or through an older version of the HMA client, as the newest version comes with them automatically configured. Split tunneling is not supported.
We were able to stream content using designated servers on the BBC iPlayer and (British) Netflix from outside of the UK without any difficulties.
The smartphone app for HMA is extremely familiar to the desktop app, most likely because the user interface is identical. You can switch between the three connection modes, and alphabetically search the server list. The only omission on the mobile app is the P2P category, whereas the streaming category and favorites list can be accessed. Somewhat oddly, your desktop favorites are not synced with your mobile favorites, which is slightly inconvenient.
Settings are also a bit sparser on the mobile app than on the desktop client, however, split tunneling is available. This allows you to designate which apps use the VPN connection you establish, and which utilize your regular connection.
HMA's user-friendly apps aren't particularly impressive, but they don't have any major deficits either, particularly with regards to features. Split tunnel routing, more protocol options, and live server data (or any data at all) would be nice, however, HMA still offers a decent package.
Score: 4 / 5
HMA's features aren't breathtaking, however, its server infrastructure is. HMA stands way above its competitors, offering more than 940 VPN servers, in 280 locations, spread across 190 countries, easily surpassing those who claim to offer a 'wide-reaching' network. HMA has servers in almost every corner of the globe, even if some of these are 'virtual servers' (and noted as such).
HMA has even staked its claim in regions where other VPN providers have traditionally been less active, such as Central and South America, as well as Africa, and Asia.
Numerically speaking, in terms of servers, HMA lags behind its competitors, however, its geographic 'spread', and truly global coverage, more than compensate for this. In our mind, the geographic spread of HMA's server network is second to none.
Note: 5 / 5
The speed of all VPNs which we tested was evaluated using a server in Europe with a 1 GB/s connection. We tested random HMA servers at different times of the day to more accurately evaluate their performances. More information concerning our methodology can be found in our VPN speed test.
The table below shows the average results from the last 365 days, arranged in order of download and upload speed (descending):
When the test was conducted, HMA clocked a download speed of 158.2 MB/s and an upload speed of 16.9 MB/s, gaining it a decent sixth place in our ranking. This was not far off from the best providers.
The diagram below shows HMA's average speeds over the past months.
Score: 4.3 / 5
Security and Privacy
Most VPN providers promise not to create any logs of their users or their browsing behavior. In most cases, the providers simply have to be taken at their word, leading to scandal when this (far too often) turns out to have not been the case. HMA can't break its "no logs" promise, since it doesn't make one to begin with.
In the data privacy notice, HMA lists the customer information that is saved, as well as what it is used for.
As an example, the provider saves timestamps of connections, information about IP addresses, as well as the IP addresses of VPN connections. Session logs alone would make many a data privacy activist nervous, but HMA saves much more, including information that allows for accounts to be tied to IP addresses and places.
Compounding this, HMA is based in the UK, a country which has been charged by the European Court of Human Rights with engaging in illegal mass-surveillance, and is part of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing agreement. In the worst case, HMA would be legally bound to submit saved information about users and their Internet behavior to British authorities, which, in turn, could share these findings with other governments party to the Five Eyes agreement.
For the majority of users, these sorts of fears don't exist; no one expects to be hooded and rendered for watching BBC's iPlayer from Germany, or an NFL game in Malaysia. Similarly, our stance on privacy should not be mistaken as an endorsement of illicit activities (it isn't); on the contrary, people-smuggling, the narcotics trade, or even terrorism, should always be combated, and never given a place of respite, especially on the Internet. We take issue with privacy infractions out of principle, because we believe that privacy is deserving of fundamental respect. In this critical area, HMA simply falls way too short of the mark.
Concerning user security, however, HMA can run with the big dogs and has no complaints from us. The program passed our VPN leak tests for IPv6, DNS, and WebRTC without any difficulties. Those who don't want to manually alter their protocols are stuck with the pre-packaged ones; OpenVPN on Windows and IPSec on Mac. AES-256 bit encryption, the industry standard, is used in all apps.
A few handy security features like 'freedom mode', random IP selection, or the kill switch round out the program nicely.
Although HMA is honest about its collection of logs and data, the loss of trust from their acknowledgement of doing so somewhat defeats the purpose of using a VPN in the first place (let alone paying for one). Even the useful extras it offers can't really compensate for this.
Grade: 1 / 5
Since VPN issues often need to be resolved quickly, live chat support (optimally 24/7) is a must for every VPN provider worth its salt. HMA comes close, offering a live chat from 8 AM to 10 PM (UTC). For less pressing issues, the standard contact form/support ticket is also available.
In the event that you prefer to resolve technical issues on your own, the informative support center offers guides, FAQs, and a forum.
Score: 4.3 / 5
HMA is available in four different packages, which become cheaper as the contract lengthens. The provider's rates are average compared to those of its competitors. The table below shows the current prices:
|36 month||24 month||12 month|
|Price per month||$2.99||$3.99||$4.99|
|Contract period (months)||36||24||12|
|Number of devices||5||5||5|
|Number of servers||890||890||890|
|Number of countries||190||190||190|
HMA subscriptions can be paid for by credit card or PayPal. Payment by BitCoin is not possible.
HideMyAss impresses in a number of ways: Its server infrastructure is unparalleled, and covers the entire globe, showing that the glaring absence of other VPN providers from certain regions is not something that needs to, or should be, accepted. HMA's features, including the random IP address function, are also nice touches.
The provider's excellent performance is overshadowed by its parent company's faux pas in the area of data privacy, particularly its overabundance of logging. This can be seen as the cost of benefiting from HMA's technical strengths, but certainly detracts from our overall impression of the service.
HMA received satisfactory to good ratings from the reviews which we examined. Its price is the most often criticized aspect of its service, whereby, most users are very satisfied with HMA's performance.