Psiphon anti-censorship tool review

Martin Brinkmann
Aug 8, 2018

Psiphon is an open source project designed to assist users across the globe to circumvent censorship and other access restrictions.

The project maintains clients for Microsoft Windows, Android, and iOS, and supports VPN, SSH, and HTTP Proxy functionality. The Windows and Android versions can be downloaded directly from the project website, the mobile versions are also available in the official stores.

The service is available as a free version and a pro version. The free version has no bandwidth limits and does not even require registration. It is speed-limited, however, to 2 Mbps at the time of writing. That's good enough for browsing the web and watching videos up to 720p without much buffering. The Pro version is available for about $14 per month. It removes the speed limitation and appears to be only available for mobile devices.

The service is based in Canada. Windows users have access to several alternatives: there is the free Windscribe VPN option, and some browsers, Opera for instance, provide access to a browser-based VPN as well.

Psiphon privacy

Psiphon is refreshingly honest about privacy stating that it does not improve online privacy and that it has been designed primarily as a circumvention tool.

Psiphon does not increase your online privacy, and should not be considered or used as an online security tool.

While Psiphon encrypts connection data when you connect to its servers, it is not "designed for anti-surveillance purposes" the company notes.

The privacy policy highlights the data that Psiphon collects. It highlights that the service may work with third-parties to deliver advertising in the client, and that advertisers may use cookies or web beacons to serve ads to users. Users may opt-out of interest-based advertising according to the privacy policy.

Psiphon users Google Analytics and collects aggregate non-personal VPN data statistics. IP addresses are not logged according to the privacy policy but geographical information based on IP addresses is.

The service does not log full page URLs but it appears that it does record domain names (which could reveal personal information, for instance when you access your personal domain).

Psiphon does encrypt the connection through SSH by default which protects the data so that the Internet Service Provider or other clients in a network cannot see or record these connections or activity.

Using Psiphon

One of the greatest strength of Psiphon is that it does not require registration; this makes it dead easy to use as you can just download the client and run it to get started.

I looked at the Windows client specifically and the following report is based on the client. The client's size is surprisingly small and it does not require installation.

Just run the program to get started. The service connects to the fastest server automatically on start and opens an "your IP address is" page in the default web browser to show that to the user. Some users may dislike that and there is no option to disable that feature in the client.

The client interface displays the connection status as well, and it would be better in my opinion if it would highlight the new IP address there.

You can select a different server on the "connected" page. Psiphon supports 20 different regions including United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, or India. The client disconnects and connects to a server in the new region when you pick a different one from the listing.

Note that a new browser tab is opened to show the new IP address whenever you switch servers.

Speed-wise, you get the advertised 2 Mpbs (a bit more actually but not much) as far as download speed is concerned. It is rather surprising that the service does not limit upload speed. A quick test using various regions supported by Psiphon revealed that; while speed tests revealed a cap of about 2.2 Mbps for downloaded data, upload speed managed to push about 6.3 Mbps to servers on the Internet.

The situation was the other way around for select servers. A connection to Switzerland resulted in download speeds of about 6 Mbps and upload speeds of 1.2 Mbps. You may want to experiment with different connections to find the most suitable one that gives you the best experience.

The speed is good enough for browsing the web and accessing content. While you can watch videos and make larger transfers as well, the experience may not be optimal at all times. Video services usually pick the right quality based on the connection; don't expect to stream in 1080p or higher quality though.

As far as bypassing censorship is concerned: this works only if the Psiphon servers are not blocked or limited in the region. It is a problem that all VPN providers face on the other hand and not limited to Psiphon in general. Considering that you don't need to sign up to start using it, it may be worth a shot.

The Windows client supports several options of interest:

  • Set the desired region for the initial connection (fastest server is the default).
  • Option to disable timeouts to avoid being dropped (useful for very slow connections)
  • Set transport mode to L2TP/IPSec.
  • Configure upstream proxy if the Windows PC uses a proxy already.
  • Set local proxy ports (default automatic).
  • Split tunnel to use the VPN only for other regions but not the user's region.

Closing Words

Psiphon has a lot going for it. The client is open source and it does not require registration to use it as a VPN. The downsides are that it is speed limited, which is understandable), and that the privacy policy may raise a few eyebrows and may discourage some users from giving it a try.

The Pro version does away with the advertisement and thus most of the privacy concerns. The price Psiphon charges for it is quite high, and it appears to be only available for mobile devices and not for Windows.

Psiphon is a good alternative especially if you compare it to browser-based VPN services (see VPNs for Chrome, VPNs for Firefox) which collect a lot more data about the user when used.

Now You: Do you use a free VPN service? If so which and why?

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  1. ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Doesn’t Windows 8 know that www. or http:// are passe ?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      Well it is a bit difficulty to distinguish between domains and files for instance.

    2. Leonidas Burton said on September 4, 2023 at 4:51 am

      I know a service made by google that is similar to Google bookmarks.

  2. VioletMoon said on August 16, 2023 at 5:26 pm

    @Ashwin–Thankful you delighted my comment; who knows how many “gamers” would have disagreed!

  3. Karl said on August 17, 2023 at 10:36 pm


    The comments section under this very article (3 comments) is identical to the comments section found under the following article:

    Not sure what the issue is, but have seen this issue under some other articles recently but did not report it back then.

  4. Anonymous said on August 25, 2023 at 11:44 am

    Omg a badge!!!
    Some tangible reward lmao.

    It sucks that redditors are going to love the fuck out of it too.

  5. Scroogled said on August 25, 2023 at 10:57 pm

    With the cloud, there is no such thing as unlimited storage or privacy. Stop relying on these tech scums. Purchase your own hardware and develop your own solutions.

    1. lollmaoeven said on August 27, 2023 at 6:24 am

      This is a certified reddit cringe moment. Hilarious how the article’s author tries to dress it up like it’s anything more than a png for doing the reddit corporation’s moderation work for free (or for bribes from companies and political groups)

  6. El Duderino said on August 25, 2023 at 11:14 pm

    Almost al unlmited services have a real limit.

    And this comment is written on the dropbox article from August 25, 2023.

  7. John G. said on August 26, 2023 at 1:29 am

    First comment > @ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    For the God’s sake, fix the comments soon please! :[

  8. Kalmly said on August 26, 2023 at 4:42 pm

    Yes. Please. Fix the comments.

  9. Kim Schmidt said on September 3, 2023 at 3:42 pm

    With Google Chrome, it’s only been 1,500 for some time now.

    Anyone who wants to force me in such a way into buying something that I can get elsewhere for free will certainly never see a single dime from my side. I don’t even know how stupid their marketing department is to impose these limits on users instead of offering a valuable product to the paying faction. But they don’t. Even if you pay, you get something that is also available for free elsewhere.

    The algorithm has also become less and less savvy in terms of e.g. English/German translations. It used to be that the bot could sort of sense what you were trying to say and put it into different colloquialisms, which was even fun because it was like, “I know what you’re trying to say here, how about…” Now it’s in parts too stupid to translate the simplest sentences correctly, and the suggestions it makes are at times as moronic as those made by Google Translations.

    If this is a deep-learning AI that learns from users’ translations and the phrases they choose most often – which, by the way, is a valuable, moneys worthwhile contribution of every free user to this project: They invest their time and texts, thereby providing the necessary data for the AI to do the thing as nicely as they brag about it in the first place – alas, the more unprofessional users discovered the translator, the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, the greater the aggregate of linguistically illiterate users has become, and the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, as it now learns the drivel of every Tom, Dick and Harry out there, which is why I now get their Mickey Mouse language as suggestions: the inane language of people who can barely spell the alphabet, it seems.

    And as a thank you for our time and effort in helping them and their AI learn, they’ve lowered the limit from what was once 5,000 to now 1,500…? A big “fuck off” from here for that! Not a brass farthing from me for this attitude and behaviour, not in a hundred years.

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