Opera has always been an also-ran among web browsers, but it's rolling out something Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari don't have -- a built-in, free, unlimited virtual private network (VPN) service.
Opera's VPN service was made available yesterday (April 20) in the latest edition of Opera's developer build (opens in new tab). After downloading this build, click on the Menu button, select Settings, select Privacy and then check off the box next to Enable VPN.
VPN services are useful when you're accessing a public Wi-Fi network, as those often unsecured networks can leave you open to having your data stolen by a peeping third party. Malicious users on public networks can lurk in the background and perform a man-in-the-middle attack, stealing account IDs and passwords as they are sent through the network.
Not only is Opera offering its VPN service free of charge, but it doesn't seem to be imposing any bandwidth or speed limits of the kind seen in other free VPN services. Unfortunately, it covers only data sent and received through the browser itself. Stand-alone VPN clients are more comprehensive, masking all transmissions taking place on your system, including email traffic and data passing through third-party cloud services such as Dropbox.
Opera has not made it clear how it will handle traffic that violates terms of service or copyright laws, such as when Americans abroad use a VPN to access the U.S. version of Netflix. Even in those situations, the browser's VPN may not be enough, as HBO and Netflix have reportedly started detecting and blocking such users.
Opera's VPN lets users route data through servers in the United States, Canada and Germany. That's better than having no options, but most paid services give a more comprehensive list of worldwide locations to choose among.
Some VPN providers promise they will not share logs of user data with third parties or government agencies, but Opera's announcement is mum on those details. Opera Software itself is in the process of being sold to a consortium of Chinese companies, and China's government is no friend of VPN services.