At the tender age of 16, Jack Cator set out to become one of those fabled internet boy wonders. You know the story: quiet kid, churns out a multi million dollar business from the comfort of his parents’ home, typical stuff really. The service that he launched, the very aptly named Hide My Ass, is a virtual private network. Story beginnings are rarely this whimsical, now let’s see how it plays out.
Download, installation and setup was what you expect from any app now – a few clicks and you’re good to go. After buying and downloading you will receive an email with your credentials. Mine took a few minutes to arrive.
I used the app on Mac and iPhone. The main interface is exactly the same on both machines. A deep blue interface with 3 options to pick from: Instant Mode, Location Mode, and Freedom Mode. Instant Mode automatically connects you through the fastest route; Location Mode lets you pick where you want to connect to. Unique to HMA is Freedom Mode, which will connect you ‘via the closest free-speech country’.
Platforms & Simultaneous Connections
HMA offers native apps for iOS and Android devices, as well as Mac, Windows, and Linux machines. The service also allows you 5 simultaneous connections.
Servers, Switches, and Limits
HMA gives you access to more than 760 servers in 190+ country locations. It puts no caps on download or upload, nor does it limit the number of network switches.
- North America: Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Aruba, Barbados, Bermuda, Bahamas, Canada, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Greenland, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Cayman Islands, Saint Lucia, Montserrat, Mexico, Nicaragua, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos Islands, USA, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the British Virgin Islands
- South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Falkland Islands, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, Suriname, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela
- Europe: Andorra, Albania, Austria, Aland Islands, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Belarus, Switzerland, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, Finland, Faroe Islands, France, UK, Georgia, Gibraltar, Greece, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Monaco, Moldova, Montenegro, Macedonia, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Russia, Sweden, Slovenia, Svalbard and Jan Mayen, Slovakia, San Marino, Ukraine, and the Vatican.
- Asia: Afghanistan, Armenia, American Samoa, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Bhutan, Cambodia, Cocos Islands, Cook Islands, China, Christmas Island, Fiji, Guam , Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, North Korea, South Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Myanmar, Mongolia, Macau, Maldives, Malaysia, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island, Nepal, Nauru, Niue, New Zealand, Oman, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Pakistan, Pitcairn Islands, Palau, Qatar, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands, Republic of Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syriam Thailand, Tajikistan, Tokelau, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tonga, Tuvalu, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Vanuatu, and Yemen
- Africa: Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Benin, Botswana, Congo, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Cote d`Ivoire, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Republic of Djibouti, Algeria, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Gambia, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Comoros, Liberia, Lesotho, Libya, Morocco, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Saint Helena, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Somalia, Sao Tome and Principe, Swaziland, Chad, Togo, Tunisia, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe
On the website, it says that the service supports OpenVPN, PPTP, and L2TP/IPSec. But for the life of me, I could not figure out the way to pick a protocol on both on the iOS and Mac apps. I contacted support to get help, and this where things got weirder.
It turned out that on the version that I am using, which support called Version 4, it was not possible to change the protocol. If i wanted to use a different protocol, I would have to download version 2 of the app.
And why is it that it can’t be done in version 4, that because, according to support again, “It is designed to be lite version and OpenVPN protocol is the most secure one.”
Now that’s not a problem in itself, but here’s the thing. I was never told that the latest – and supposedly – greatest version that I was directed to download when I subscribed to the service would have but one protocol. It is this writer’s personal opinion, but HMA should have made this clearer.
Although owned by a Czech company, Avast Software, Hide My Ass is based in the UK, a country notorious for it laws regarding surveillance. But users can probably take solace in the fact that the UK isn’t due to leave the EU until March 29, 2019, meaning that its users would still be protect by GDPR for roughly 11 more months.
It must also be noted that leaving the EU does not necessarily mean that GDPR won’t apply anymore for HMA users, it probably will, and not just one residing in the EU. GDPR’s reach stretches far beyond EU countries: in all likelihood, companies that cater for EU residents, HMA included, will have to implement GDPR to all users. The alternative – applying GDPR selectively based on the user’s country of residence – will be notoriously impractical and consequently very unlikely to happen.
In not so great news, the UK is a founding member of the infamous global intelligence alliances; five, nine, and fourteen eyes.
Kill Switch & (Un)Trusted Networks
A Kill Switch is available in HMA, but it is disabled by default. To enable it, you will need to go into the Kill Switch tab in ‘Preferences’. In the Network Security tab, always in Preferences, HMA gives you three options when it comes to unsecured wifi networks: either to automatically turn on the service, to be reminded to turn on the service, or to simply do nothing; which is followed by a caution message. There is also the option to whitelist a wifi network, marking it as trusted. Finally HMA can periodically change your IP address for you, making your activity harder to track, using the IP Shuffle feature.
There is really very little to say about the interface. Aside from the main, and only tab (which we described earlier), all the settings can be accessed from Preferences. And that’s about it really.
The settings tab feels eerily deserted on the iOS app. Have a look for yourself.
I tested the impact of HMA on my connection speed. I connected to servers in New York, London, and Amsterdam. Naturally I also tested HMA’s Instant and Freedom Modes.
Instant Mode proved to be the fastest. Download speed dropped 28.45% whereas upload dropped 63.77%. If your concern is to make the most out of the web, connecting to the closest free speech country, then you’re going to have to sacrifice a bit (more) of speed: the Freedom Mode connected me through the Czech Republic, however my download speed dropped by 70.3% while the upload dropped by 32.17%.
The other three servers i tested, New York, London, and Amsterdam, resulted in the following drops: 66.6%, 44.12%, and 40.2% in download, and 50.14%, 38.26%, and 17.68% in upload respectively.
I have had to resort to contacting support three times: Upon installation – when my credentials did not arrive immediately after I bought a subscription – and when i couldn’t figure out how to change protocols, I also contacted them with a few questions regarding their compliance with GDPR.
In the first two instances, response on the live chat was timely and successful. I had to wait a minute or so before a representative handled my inquiries, but overall the process was quite efficient. For the third inquiry -granted, a much more complicated request – did not go so smoothly.
The representative kindly declined to assisting me after the first few questions, and, rightfully i believe, asked to take my questions to someone else. He promised that i would be contacted by mail with the answer to all my questions. I have yet to receive a response.
Price & Final Verdict
The 1 month plan will cost you $11.99, the 6 month plan will cost you $7.99 a month (a 33% reduction), and the yearly plan will end up costing you $6.99 (saving 42%).
It’s not cheap. Considering the features, or lack thereof, HMA feels a bit overpriced, especially considering the effect on speed. I would not recommend this app to the average user. Perhaps it is best suited for casual users looking for an easily navigable app whose primary concern isn’t speed or customization.
Here’s how it compares to the other VPNs we’ve reviewed so far.
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