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For $2 a month, this Google Chrome extension lets you escape censorship and protect your privacy

internet censorship

If you’re in a censorship-heavy country or want security in a public wifi hotspot, a VPN service is your best friend. Unfortunately, it has a tendency to let you down: it’s either too expensive, too slow, or too difficult to use.

GOM is a VPN service that’s trying to address the Goldilocks problem. It’s a Google Chrome extension that eliminates the complex setup required by many VPN software. Three clicks is all it takes to start using it.

It’s cheap too. You either pay about US$2 a month for its 1,000 Mbps VPN servers, or fork out US$99 upfront for lifetime use. US$2 is ridiculous compared to other paid VPN services, which typically cost US$6 and above. Astrill, one of the most popular VPNs, asks you to fork out USS$5.83 a month for a one-year membership.

Speed-wise, it lies somewhere between free VPNs, which slow internet speed to a crawl, and the super-fast connections of paid offerings. I tested it out on my home fibre broadband connection in Singapore, and the results showed promise.

Here’s my internet connection speed before I activate the VPN:

gom vpn chrome google extension speed test

And after:

vpn chrome extension speed google test.

Of course, this test isn’t exhaustive and does not reflect what other users will face. But my experience using it over the course of a few days has been mostly positive. Netflix streamed without any stoppages. Websites load fast.

Sometimes, images or pages failed to load, but hitting the refresh button or resetting the VPN usually fixed it.

GOM has a smart feature which detects a blocked website (especially if you’re in Singapore) and automatically activates the VPN. The user interface is minimalist and pretty, and a slider allows you to set how long you’d like the VPN turned on, which is nice.

vpn-google-chrome-extension

 

If only…

I just wish my two colleagues in China – both VPN users – were able to replicate my pleasant experience. One of them received a “unable to connect to proxy server” message when trying to surf a website. Another found the sign up process too confusing, and he wasn’t able to get GOM to work either. I got a Tech in Asia staff based in the Philippines to try it, but he was stuck with another error.

While the reviews in the Chrome app store are mostly positive, some users complained that it didn’t work. The website lacks documentation for troubleshooting, which doesn’t help.

The creator of GOM, who prefers to stay anonymous, promised that the service would work in any country with internet censorship, but since this app had just launched, he’ll need time to work out the kinks.

This isn’t the first time GOM has gotten on the radar: the first version launched in 2013. GOM is short for “Go Away MDA”, and the creator made it as a way to circumvent Singapore government’s blockage of several internet sites, mostly containing porn.

The plugin is eponymously named after the Media Development Authority of Singapore, the government agency in charge of internet matters in the country.

The app has gone viral after appearing in online news media, web forums, and social sites. It even got traction in the UK when a renamed version called “Go Away Cameron” hit the interwebs. This was after the British Prime Minister ordered ISPs to implement porn filters.

So, what’s different with the new GOM? Aside from the prettier interface, it now runs on Google’s SPDY technology. That means SSL encryption and faster website loading times. The SPDY boost could partially offset the speed bump from VPN usage, but it’s hard to test that out for sure. The technology can be embedded into apps, and some of Google’s services are already using it.

This means that while the developer meant the old GOM simply as a way to bypass internet filters, the new one secures your internet usage even when surfing non-HTTPS sites, protecting you from snoops (including the ISPs).

GOM is unique as far as VPNs go. It’s probably the first to use SPDY, and one of a few to have a Chrome extension. And the other Chrome apps fall short.

Hola is user-friendly, popular, and fast, but its premium service costs US$5 a month. It doesn’t encrypt all your activities either. VPN.S seems decent, but it’s intimidating to use and didn’t work in my case. Then there’s ZenMate, which is free and encrypted, but intolerably slow for me.

Given that the competition has yet to catch up, GOM has a chance of far exceeding its 12,000 downloads, if it can iron out its wrinkles.

Download the extension here.

See more: 5 ways to sneak through China’s Great Firewall

Editing by Paul Bischoff, lead image by opensource.com

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