Global VPN downloads surge 3x surpassing 780 million in 2021

Edward G. | February 7, 2022

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) were outside of the radar of even the most privacy-conscious users just five years prior, even though the technology itself emerged 25 years ago. However, it was primarily used to protect data transfers within corporate environments.

Yet, due to the rapid onset of cybercrime coupled with unprecedented internet usage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, VPN services have become one of the most popular tools to safeguard your online journey in just the past few years.

Besides increased privacy and security, VPN services also enable users to access geo-blocked websites, streaming platforms, and applications, such as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services like WhatsApp, blocked in countries with stringent internet restrictions.

To get a clear perspective on the current VPN adoption rate in the world, the Atlas VPN research team analyzed Virtual Private Network application downloads in 85 selected countries. The VPN download data is extracted from Google Play Store and Apple App Store using the Sensor Tower service. Download data includes the 45 biggest VPN providers.

VPN downloads surge by 184% YoY

According to data based on the VPN Adoption Index, VPN downloads reached 785 million in 2021, representing a 184% increase YoY. In 2020, the data encryption tool downloads stood at 277 million.

With over one billion downloads in the past two years, it would be an understatement to say that VPNs have entered the mainstream. They became one of the most popular security tools globally.

Delving deeper into the analysis, are some countries adopting VPNs significantly faster than others? The findings reveal that citizens in Arab countries turn to VPNs the quickest, even though the legality of VPNs in some countries is in a grey area.

The country with the most significant VPN adoption on the list is Qatar. Over 2 million unique downloads originated from Qatar in 2021, amounting to a VPN adoption index of 69.69%.

The VPN adoption index is calculated by dividing the volume of downloads per year by the country’s population.

VPN Adoption Index

See the full list here.

One of the main reasons for using a Virtual Private Network in Qatar is to unblock VoIP services, like WhatsApp and Skype. 

Also, websites that criticize the government, offer privacy circumvention tools, or are related to pornography and dating are filtered in Qatar.

The United Arab Emirates is the second country on the list in terms of VPN adoption. In 2021, the VPN adoption reached 59.52% and 5.89 million downloads, which is slightly lower than that in 2020.

Interestingly, the UAE has one of the strictest laws against the use of VPNs for fraudulent purposes.

The law states the following:

“A punishment of temporary imprisonment and a fine of not less than AED 500,000 (USD 136,000) and not more than AED 2,000,000 (USD 545,000), or either of these two penalties, shall be imposed on whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address by using a false address or a third-party address or by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery.”

In short, the usage of VPN itself is not illegal, but if you commit a crime while being connected to a VPN, prepare to pay a hefty fine or even pay a visit to the prison.

Regarding website and service blocking - the situation is exactly the same as in Qatar.

Singapore is the odd man out on the top five list since it is the only Non-Arab country. VPN downloads in Singapore jumped to 2.87 million in 2021, which is a 204% increase over 2020.

VPN adoption index comes out to 49.14%, while it was only at 16.16% in 2020.

Even though internet restrictions in Singapore are not as strict as those in Gulf countries, they block some material in a rather symbolic way.

Some of the most popular pornographic sites and one of the most popular dating websites are blocked in Singapore. Yet, the government does not block 99% of the remaining pornographic and dating content, which is why the restrictions can be regarded as symbolic.

With 12.76 million downloads and 36.65%% adoption, Saudi Arabia is fourth on the list. Unlike many other Arab countries, VoIP services are allowed in Saudi Arabia. The government lifted restrictions on VoIP services to make the Kingdom more attractive for outside businesses.

However, many pornographic websites and dating applications, including Tinder, are blocked in Saudi Arabia.

Oman is finishing up the top five countries with the highest VPN adoption globally. In 2021, over 1.71 million downloads originated from Oman, resulting in a VPN adoption score of 33.65%.

VoIP services are still blocked in Oman, even though Gulf residents raised a question of lifting the restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Also, the filtering on pornographic and dating websites is as strict as in other Arab countries.

Closing remarks

To conclude the findings, we can clearly see that VPN adoption is the highest in Arab countries due to strict internet restrictions.

Yet, for the majority of the countries outside of the top 10 list, the primary reasons for using a VPN are privacy, security, and accessing geo-restricted streaming services. 

To see where your country ranks in terms of VPN adoption, please check out our interactive VPN adoption page here.

Still, not every web user finds it worth the cost to purchase a VPN subscription. That is why Atlas VPN decided to run on a freemium business model, which means that everyone can use the barebones version of our application completely free.

You can head over to the download page here and increase your privacy and security online within a few minutes.  

Edward G.

Edward G.

Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. My mission is to scan the ever-evolving cybercrime landscape to inform the public about the latest threats.

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