Opera, the makers of an ad-blocking web browser, whose most recent claim to fame is having TikTok built-in, announced today it’s rolling out an updated version of its iOS app that now includes its free VPN. Previously available on Mac, Windows, Linux and Android, the iOS release now makes Opera the first browser to offer a free VPN service across all major computing platforms, the company touted in its announcement.
The news is particularly timely given that, late last year, Opera’s largest competitor Google expanded its own VPN tool to desktop users on Mac and PC, after earlier supporting iOS and Android. But in Google’s case, its VPN is available only to subscribers on its Google One paid plans. Apple also offers a tool for encrypting an internet connection with its iCloud Private Relay feature, though it’s not really a VPN. But like Google, it’s also only available as part of a paid subscription (iCloud+).
Opera’s VPN, meanwhile, does not require a subscription. The company says users don’t have to create an account to log in or use the feature. Opera also notes it doesn’t collect any personal information or data relating to the user’s browsing habits or their originating IP address. And the service doesn’t require any additional extensions to use — users can activate it from the main menu in the app to begin encrypting their VPN traffic.
The company is able to offer free tools to end users because it generates revenue through other channels, including search and ad revenues, as well as technology licensing fees. It’s projecting $370-$390 million in revenues for 2023, for instance.
Still, some users may not feel comfortable with Opera’s VPN service given the Norwegian company was sold to a Chinese consortium in 2016. It bought back shares from Qihoo 360 in 2022 and its largest stockholder is now Kunlun Tech Co, publicly traded on the Shenzhen stock exchange. The nature of U.S.-Chinese relations now has the government weighing a ban on TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps, which could potentially complicate Opera’s future plans. (Opera, however, points out that it’s headquartered in Oslo and GDPR-compliant, noting it handles user data as dictated by European laws and regulations regardless of our ownership). Some security researchers have also criticized Opera’s default privacy setting with regard to advertising and personalization. Opera disputes these findings as highly problematic and inaccurate.
For iOS users, the Opera mobile browser app aims to differentiate itself beyond the new VPN feature alone. The app includes other unique tools, like a “My Flow” for file sharing between devices, a native Crypto Wallet feature, a built-in ad blocker and a security-focused cryptojacking protection feature, among others.
With today’s update, the iOS app is gaining a couple of other additions, too, including a new Bookmarks feature for organizing favorite content, and a Live Scores feature for tracking sports teams’ latest scores via a scoreboard on the browser’s homepage.
However, Opera cautions that while the features, including the VPN are launching starting today, the full rollout will actually take place over the weeks ahead. That means you may not immediately see the new VPN feature when you launch the iOS app, but should soon.
Updated 4/13/22 with additional information about Opera ownership and its disputes over security concerns.