Changes to Opera's VPN service
The Opera browser is the only major web browser that comes with a built-in VPN service / browser proxy that users may activate to improve the privacy while they are using the browser.
While limited to the Opera browser, as opposed to standalone VPN solutions which cover all programs that connect to the Internet, it is free and easy to use. The company launched Opera VPN for iOS and Android as well, and introduced a paid subscription option called Opera VPN Gold some time later.
The VPN service that is built in is operated by SurfEasy LLC, a company that Opera Software acquired back in 2015.
Opera Software itself sold its consumer business to a Chinese consortium in 2016. The deal included consumer products such as the Opera web browser or Opera Max, but not SurfEasy LLC which remained in the hands of Opera Software.
The company sold SurfEasy to Symantec in November 2017 for $50 million US Dollars however. Symantec's interest in SurfEasy came from the fact that SurfEasy was powering Symantec's Norton Wi-Fi VPN product already, and that the product helped Symantec improve the growth rate of its consumer business (which was in decline last year but growing this year).
For Opera Software, the deal meant that the company had two options: broker a deal with SurfEasy to keep on using it in Opera, or find a different system instead.
Opera Software decided to create its own service from scratch and integrate it into the Opera browser. One benefit of the change is that the VPN will use Opera data centers and infrastructure, and that the move should improve the performance and scalability of the solution.
One downside of the change is that Opera moves from offering country connections to regional connections instead. Instead of connecting to a server in the Netherlands or UK for instance, Opera users can only select to connect to Europe instead.
This reduces the usefulness of the solution for some use cases. It is no longer possible for instance to use Opera VPN to access region blocked content, as you cannot control the country anymore that you connect to when using the VPN.
The company plans to introduce another change in the soon to be released Opera 50. Opera VPN will bypass the VPN automatically when user's access native search engines. Opera Software mentions Google, Bing and Yandex specifically, but it seems to apply to any search engine that is currently integrated in Opera.
People who used Opera VPN complained about the search quality in the past due according to Opera Software, and this new feature is designed to improve the situation.
While enabled by default, users can turn off the feature if they don't want to reveal their device's unique IP address to search engine sites.
Do the following to turn off the search engine bypass feature:
- Load opera://settings in the browser's address bar.
- Switch to privacy & security.
- Scroll down to the VPN group, and uncheck "Bypass VPN for default search engines".