Edit: A spokesperson of Aura, Betternet’s parent company, contacted the editor after this story’s release saying: “Contrary to recent media reports, there is not currently, nor has there ever been, an employee by the name of Hamid Rezazadeh at BetterNet or The Pango Group.”
You probably already know that with one of the best VPN services you can secure your online anonymity, while bypassing internet restrictions.
What you might not expect is that the government of a country like Iran, where a new draconian internet law will further reduce online freedoms and criminalize circumventing software, is somehow linked with an overseas VPN provider.
That’s why allegations that Hamid Rezazadeh – son of Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Ensieh Khazali – is behind the Vancouver-based Betternet VPN have sparked many concerns, both at home and across the global VPN sector.
The Iran VPN saga
The controversial link between Iranian officials and the Canada-based free VPN software came to light when Swiss-based Iranian journalist Abdollah Abdi (opens in new tab) released a long thread where he shared incriminating evidence on his social media pages.
Ensieh Khazali’s response was not long in coming. In a series of tweets (opens in new tab), she rejected such allegations, explaining that his son is actually in Canada for a temporary trip aimed at “knowledge-based” research.
However, it wasn’t difficult for Iranian social media users to get deeper into the story by finding the Rezazadeh’s profile on the professional website Rocketreach. This clearly describes him as the software manager, chief executive officer and founder of Betternet VPN.
Despite the post now disappearing from the site, the vice president’s brother Mehdi Khazali confirmed the truthfulness of such accusations.
“He closed his company in Iran and moved to Canada where he created another company that is active in the field of VPNs,” he told to RFE/RL (opens in new tab).
رحالی سرکار خانم انسیه خزعلی به دروغ ادعا کردن که پسرشان برای سفر کوتاه کاری به کانادا رفته است که پسر گل ایشان درکانادا شرکت تولید وی پی ان VPN زده است!همین کارو من جرجندی بکنم میشم جاسوس و بی پدر مادر و مجرم امنیتی!یه نکته مهم دیگه هم داره.. 1/3 https://t.co/sIcixPilOF pic.twitter.com/A7uiCq1GtgSeptember 8, 2022
With the Iranian government’s strict stance on the use of VPN services and online liberties, calls for Ensieh Khazali to resign from her official role inevitably follow suit.
The story has also lead to resentments around what Iranian called aghazadehs. This describes the hypocrisy around governmental figures who, while strongly criticizing the West at home, still send their children to study and work there.
What’s more, Canada and Iran have been in a conflictual relationship since 2012, and the North American country has been refusing to grant visas to many Iranian citizens.
Is Betternet VPN safe to use?
Whether or not a malicious intent to harvest users’ sensitive data lies behind Betternet’s controversial Iranian ownership exists is impossible to ascertain. What’s undeniable is that its software is not famous for being the most secure VPN on the market.
Despite being a popular freebie – it has been downloaded more than 50 million times on Google Play alone – a 2016 research report (opens in new tab) discovered the presence of malware and tracking libraries embedded in Betternet Android app.
Betternet LLC Inc. is registered in California. And, the US together with Canada are two of the founders of the intelligence-sharing alliance known as the Five Eyes. That’s not probably the best news for those looking to secure their data from government prying eyes.
In terms of ownership, Betternet is part of the Pango group which was bought last year by digital security firm Aura. The parental company also owns other VPN providers like Ultra VPN and Hotspot Shield. It is worth noting that the latter made headlines a few years ago following allegations of abusing VPN users’ data.
TechRadar cybersecurity specialist Mike Williams wasn’t impressed either, when he reviewed the Betternet VPN premium version.
He concluded: “Betternet is a fast VPN and very easy to use, but the lack of features, multiple privacy concerns and poor unblocking results are real problems.”