Opera today added its free VPN service to its Android browser app. The Norwegian company, which went public last year, also addressed concerns about potential hidden costs of free VPN offerings.

As users become more cautious about privacy, many are exploring VPN services. According to a GlobalWebIndex estimate, more than 650 million people worldwide use such tools to mask their online identity and fend off web trackers. Opera has long recognized this need. In 2016, it launched Opera VPN, a standalone VPN app for iOS and Android. A few months later, it baked that feature into its desktop browser. Last year, however, the company discontinued Opera VPN.

Now Opera is integrating the VPN service into its Android browser. Opera began testing the free VPN service in its beta Android browser app last month, and Opera 51 for Android enables users to establish a private connection between their mobile device and a remote VPN server using 256-bit encryption. Users can pick a server of their choice from a range of locations. Unlike some VPN apps, Opera’s offering does not require users to open an account to use the service.

Market share

By offering a free built-in VPN service — a feature not available in other popular mobile browsers — Opera could win back some users it has lost to Google, Samsung, and China’s UC Browser. Chrome dominated browsing with 56.74 percent mobile usage share (both Android and iOS combined) at the end of February, according to web analytics service StatCounter. Apple’s Safari was second with 21.29 percent, followed by UC Browser with 7.28 percent and Samsung Internet with 7.14 percent.

Opera, which had just 3.53 percent browsing usage share, has grown aggressive with its feature offerings in recent quarters. Last year, it introduced a browser-based Ethereum wallet and an optional night mode theme. In November, the company added a feature to its Android browser that disables in-page cookies.

On the flip side, a free VPN service may stoke fear among some users. In recent years, we have seen instances of VPN services caught selling information about their customers. Furthermore, a recent study found that the vast majority of free VPN services are either owned by Chinese companies or have other suspicious connections to the nation.

Jan Standal, VP of product marketing at Opera, told VentureBeat that the VPN service in the Android app does not log “activity of data” or attempt to monetize any aspect of the feature. “The service is provided fully free of charge as a unique feature to improve the privacy and security. Opera monetizes from other unrelated mechanisms, and unlike other VPN services, Opera doesn’t depend on monetizing the browser VPN service,” he said.

The company, which claims to have 320 million users across all its services, says its latest Android browser version is available to download from Google Play and will be rolled out gradually across the globe. Standal declined to comment on whether the company plans to bring its VPN service to Opera’s iOS browser.