Everywhere you go on the internet, you leave virtual footprints and other traces. Wouldn’t it be handy to float through the web like a ghost, leaving no trace? That’s the idea behind Ghostery Midnight, a privacy app for Windows and macOS. With Ghostery Midnight, you get a VPN to let your communications slip past snoops and spies, an active tracker protection system to keep advertisers from profiling you, and a simple ad blocker tool.
Ghostery Midnight costs $11.99 per month, down from $14. If you commit to a year, your price goes down to $8.99 per month. Ghostery makes a no-VPN simplified version available for $4.99 per month and a simple browser-extension version of the tracker and ad blocking system available for free. VPN protection is important, so it makes sense to compare the premium price with other VPNs. The current average monthly price for top-tier PC VPNs is $10.10, so Midnight is slightly on the high side.
Comparing with other privacy-related products is tough, because there are so many different combinations of features for protecting privacy. Encrypted email systems StartMail and ProtonMail cost $59.95 per year and $48 per year, respectively. Disposable email address manager ManyMe is totally free. And the multi-faceted Abine Blur privacy system goes for $39 per year. Here, too, Midnight is expensive.
Ad and Tracker Blocking
As noted, Ghostery offers a free browser extension that blocks ads and trackers. You can get the full extension for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Opera, plus a Lite version for Safari. The difference with Midnight is that the ad and tracker blockers affect all browsers and internet-capable apps.
It’s easy to see the ad blocker in action. We simply opened an ad-heavy page on the test system with Midnight active and opened the same page on another system in the same browser. Interstitial and scroll-down ads simply didn’t appear on the test system, while inline ads left behind blank spaces.
Like the active Do Not Track feature found in Abine Blur Premium and in security suites such as Kaspersky Internet Security and AVG Internet Security, the free Ghostery extension displays the number of trackers on the current page as an overlay of its toolbar icon. Clicking the icon gets you a detailed view, along with the ability to customize ad and tracker blocking.
Midnight isn’t a browser extension, and it doesn’t offer the same degree of customization. Its main window reports the number of tracker requests blocked, broken down by category, and it lists the internet-aware applications whose connections it’s protecting. Clicking within that list expands it to fill the main window and lets you see the number of tracker requests detected and blocked for each app.
You can dig in further by clicking any app. This gets you a list of all tracker requests for that app, broken down into categories like Site Analytics and Advertisers. You can also disable protection on a per-app basis, or set Midnight to monitor tracker requests for a given app without actively blocking them.
Ghostery gives away browser-specific ad and tracker blocking for free. The biggest feature you get with the commercial Midnight is the privacy protection of a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. When you’re connected to the internet through a VPN, nobody can sniff or snoop your traffic, not even the owner of the network you’re using. And trackers perceive your traffic as coming from the VPN server, not your actual location. It’s a big plus.
What Is a VPN?
Not everyone knows what a VPN is, or why they need one. Here are the basics: when you switch on a VPN, it creates an encrypted channel between you and a remote server owned by the VPN company. All your web traffic travels through that channel, hiding it from anyone on your network and even your ISP—which is good, because ISPs can sell your data to advertisers now. Any website you visit sees your traffic mixed with that of others using the same VPN, making it harder to see who is doing what. And you appear to have the IP address of the VPN server, so your actual address (which can locate you geographically) is hidden.
The fact that your web traffic appears to come from the VPN’s location can also help you access content that may not be available in your region. Take care, though, as you may be breaking terms of service by faking out a site to access region-locked content. On a more serious note, journalists and activists working in repressive regimes can use VPN protection to communicate with the outside world.
VPNs are great tools, but they won’t protect against every threat. Using antivirus software and a password manager, and protecting your accounts with two-factor authentication will go a long way to securing you online. If you need even more anonymity, you’ll be better served by using Tor, or a VPN that can access the Tor network.
How Does Ghostery Midnight’s VPN Compare?
As noted, Midnight now costs $11.95 per month, or $8.99 per month with the discount for annual payment. The monthly price is the same as that of the well-known NordVPN. Editors’ Choice TunnelBear VPN costs less, at $9.99 per month. And Mullvad VPN, also an Editors’ Choice, runs you just €5 per month ($5.62 at the time of this writing).
Sometimes a higher price is justified by the presence of special features not found in the general population of VPN products. For example, NordVPN, ProtonVPN, Mullvad, and Surfshark let you route your traffic through more than one VPN server “hop” for additional protection. Midnight doesn’t offer multi-hop connections.
As you’ll see below, using a VPN can slow your connections. A feature called split tunneling lets you route some traffic through the VPN while letting other apps connect with no VPN protection. CyberGhost VPN, ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access, and Surfshark are among the VPNs that let you use split tunneling. Midnight proudly protects all your connections, so there’s no split tunneling here.
TOR (short for The Onion Router) is a network designed for extreme privacy. Your internet request enters the TOR network, bounces around between many different servers, and emerges with no link to you. Tracing that connection back to you would be like peeling layers of an onion, hence the name. ProtonVPN and NordVPN have TOR support built in, for those times when you want the maximum anonymity. You could connect to the TOR network on a system protected by Midnight, but there’s no direct TOR support.
The one thing you get with Midnight that you don’t with most competitors is unlimited simultaneous connections. You could load the VPN on every Mac and PC in your household and connect them all at once, with no gripes from the VPN. Most competing products apply a limit, with five simultaneous connections being the most common. Surfshark VPN, Avira Phantom VPN, and encrypt.me are among the few competing products that don’t limit simultaneous connections.
(Editors’ Note: encrypt.me is owned by j2 Global, the parent company of PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.)
There are many possible protocols to manage a VPN’s protected connection. We prefer OpenVPN, which has a reputation for speed and reliability. Even better, it’s open-source, which means its code has been picked over and audited for any potential vulnerabilities. WireGuard, another open-source protocol, may well be the future of the VPN industry, but it hasn’t seen widespread adoption.
We’re pleased to see that Ghostery Midnight uses OpenVPN both in its Windows app and its macOS edition.
Servers and Server Locations
For a seamless VPN experience, you want a service that maintains many servers, in many locations. When there are plenty of servers, you won’t see your connection speed bogged down by sharing with too many other users. And when there are plenty of locations, you should always be able to find one nearby. In addition, having many locations means many opportunities to spoof just where you’re coming from.
In the plenty-o’-servers competition CyberGhost leads the pack, with over 5,900 servers available. NordVPN manages more than 5,300 while ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, Private Internet Access VPN, and TorGuard all offer over 3,000 servers.
As for breadth of coverage, Hide My Ass VPN seems to lead the field, with servers in over 220 countries. However, a great many of those are virtual servers, meaning they’re not physically located where they seem to be. In a similar fashion, PureVPN claims servers in 140 countries but only maintains physical hardware in 55 of those. We prefer to see actual, physical servers in use. On that basis, we like the spread of ExpressVPN, with non-virtual servers in almost 100 countries.
And then, we get to Midnight. This VPN has just six server locations, in five countries: Canada, Germany, Singapore, the US, and the UK. On the plus side, Ghostery’s servers are all physically located in their stated locations.
Midnight relies on FoxyProxy to manage the VPN infrastructure. FoxyProxy has been around since 2006 and, according to its FAQ, maintains servers in 111 countries.
Your Privacy With Ghostery
The point of using a VPN is to protect your privacy, so the last thing you’d want is for the VPN company itself to put that privacy at risk. Ghostery’s parent company Cliqz is based in Germany, and is thus subject to the stringent privacy protections of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation. That means, among other things, that you can at any time request and receive all the information the company has about you, and you can require them to delete all of that data.
You pay for Midnight, so the company necessarily has your contact information. With the free browser-extension product, you don’t have to give any personal data at all. Any necessary communications come through a messaging platform in the extension.
Cliqz doesn’t make any money from the VPN other than through user subscriptions, which is as it should be. No security company should profit from selling user data. And in the event of a data breach, GDPR requires full and fast disclosure.
It can be difficult to draw definitive judgments about a VPN’s security and privacy practices, as those are hidden from reviewers and customers alike. As is the case with most security products, trust is key. If, for whatever reason, you do not feel you can trust a particular company, just pick one of the many other options.
Hands On With the VPN
With Midnight already installed, all you do to start using VPN protection is select one of the six server locations and click the switch to enable it. In testing, it connected quickly. And that was the extent of our interaction. There’s no indicator of bandwidth used, no other controls, not even any settings. Turn it on, all your internet connections go through the VPN; turn it off, they don’t.
We did use a couple IP geolocation websites to verify that indeed our connection appeared to be coming from the VPN server. In addition, sites like Netflix displayed location-specific content for the VPN server’s location, not our own.
Occasionally we encounter a VPN that correctly hides your actual IP address but allows DNS queries to go through your default browser DNS servers. In that situation, your connection is leaking information about your location. Using online tools designed for the purpose, we verified that this VPN doesn’t leak DNS information.
Streaming and Other Services
According to the company, Midnight does not restrict your connection to P2P or BitTorrent websites. That’s handy for those accustomed to using such sites. Not all VPNs permit torrenting. Norton and Webroot ban BitTorrent, and encrypt.me makes use of BitTorrent difficult. At the other extreme, TorGuard VPN packs in features designed to enhance your torrenting experience.
Streaming services like Netflix frown on using VPNs to change your apparent location. Content that’s licensed in the UK, for example, may not be legally available in the US. As a result, these services work hard to detect and block VPN connections.
Ghostery does not promise you can stream Netflix video over the VPN, and indeed, we couldn’t do so. Whether connecting though a browser or through the Windows Store Netflix app, we got the standard error messaging advising we turn off any “unblocker or proxy” that’s present.
We did discover one interesting fact. Even though the VPN clearly handled the Windows Store Netflix app, that app did not show up in the main window’s list of protected applications. Our contact at the company explained that Netflix runs its network requests through an internal Windows service, as does Hulu. Because of that, the apps themselves don’t show in the list.
Speed and Performance
When you use a VPN, your network traffic necessarily travels farther and goes through more servers. It’s only natural that connection speeds are affected. To get a sense of how much an impact each VPN makes, we run a series of tests using the Ookla speed test tool and calculate the percent change between when a VPN is active and when it is not. These tests may not reflect your experience, but they allow us to compare the effects of different VPNs on download speed, upload speed, and latency.
(Editors’ Note: Ookla Speedtest is owned by j2 Global, the parent company of PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.)
Latency refers to the time between your PC sending a request for data to a website and the first response from the site. With no VPN active, latency typically runs to just a few milliseconds, nothing you’d notice. Adding Midnight to the mix increased latency by 1,210.9 percent, well over 10 times as long. We can only surmise this is due to the tiny number of server choices.
After that initial connection, though, things went more smoothly. Midnight only slowed downloads by 56.4 percent. As you can see in the chart below, which highlights the nine best speed results from the nearly 40 products we tested, that’s better than much of the competition. The best score is 26.7 percent, achieved by Hotspot Shield VPN.
Midnight didn’t fare as well in the upload speed test. It slowed uploads by 87.3 percent, which is poorer than many of the competing products. Note, though, that for must users download speed is much more significant than upload speed.
We always caution against purchasing a VPN based on speed tests alone. For one thing, your results may well differ for ours. For another, we consider design, pricing, value, and technical excellence to be far more important factors than mere speed.
A Straightforward VPN
Midnight’s VPN couldn’t be easier to use. Choose a server, turn it on, turn it off. That’s it. There are no settings, and no fancy features. And you can use it on as many Windows and macOS devices as you like. On the other hand, it offers servers in an amazingly small number of locations, just six, where most competitors offer dozens or even hundreds of locations. We consider broad geographic coverage to be essential for a top VPN, though, and Midnight most definitely doesn’t offer that.
There’s More to Come
While Ghostery has offered privacy tools for years, Midnight is relatively new. Its combination of browser-independent ad and tracker blocking with a simple VPN is unusual. The new, lower pricing also makes it attractive. And there’s more coming. Clicking Coming Up in the left-rail menu brings up teasers for some planned new features. Ghostery plans to add live tracker-activity monitoring, for one thing. Perhaps more important is the plan to add historical statistics logging. We’d also like to see more detailed control over the ad and tracker blocking components, and more servers for the VPN.
That said, you can do better in both the VPN and privacy realms. Mullvad VPN, ProtonVPN, and TunnelBear VPN all offer a wider range of features and servers, and all cost less. Mullvad in particular is less than half the monthly price of Ghostery Midnight. These three are our Editors’ Choice VPNs.
As for privacy, comparisons are tough because apps take so many different approaches to protection. Like Ghostery Midnight, Abine Blur offers active blocking of online trackers, but it also lets you shop online without revealing your email address, phone, or credit card number. This feature-rich privacy tool even includes a complete password manager utility. Blur is our Editors’ Choice for online privacy tools.