VPN Apps Save Millions from Censorship in Russia
The government in Russia is making it increasingly difficult for residents to access news. In the last week, they've outlawed most news coverage and blocked Facebook and Twitter, forcing those who want to stay in the know to use VPN apps, which allow users to get around such bans and blocks.
The need for VPNs is even more amplified because companies like Netflix, TikTok, and many others, have stopped operating in the country.
Demand for Facebook Doubled After Invasion
Before we dive into VPNs, let's have a quick look at why Russia blocked Facebook.
According to our estimates, demand for Facebook doubled in the first week of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Downloads went from about 12K per day to more than 22K on Friday, the day Facebook was blocked officially.
Russians Bypass Censorship with VPNs
As of right now, VPN apps make up most of the top apps in Russia across the App Store and Google Play.
To see how big of a trend this is right now, I combined downloads for the top 10 VPN apps in each store.
Cumulative downloads of the top 10 apps on the App Store and Google Play started climbing on February 24th, the day Russia officially invaded Ukraine. According to our estimates, downloads grew from a daily average of 16K to more than 700K by Wednesday.
In the 10 days between 2/24 and 3/5, the top 10 VPN apps on the App Store and on Google Play saw more than 4,600,000 new downloads. And our estimates are very conservative here.
The Most Downloaded VPNs in Russia Right Now
Going a level deeper, I analyzed the top 10 apps in each store and also combined them across both stores.
Most of these VPN apps look pretty much the same and mostly aren't branded, which means users just want to be able to browse the internet and don't care how. Which explains the skyrocketing trend we just looked at.
We can look at it from another angle -- the apps with the most downloads are those that showed up first in search results (thanks to App Store Optimization), with more well-known brands like Cloudflare, Nord, and Turbo VPN who are less optimized behind.
Overall, there's a good amount of variety in both apps and downloads.
The most downloaded VPN app across the App Store and Google Play, Secure VPN, reached almost a million downloads in 10 days. VPN Proxy Master, the second most downloaded VPN app across the two stores and the leader on the App Store, added 764,000 new users, and the list continues.
Here are the totals for the leading VPN apps in each store:
- App Store: 1.3M,
- Google Play: 3.3M
It's good to see that there are still ways around Russian censorship, and it's also good to see so much variety, which means shutting them down won't be as easy. But... I suspect this will not continue for too long.
The government has a variety of ways to stop VPNs from operating in the country, both technically and "legally". And there's always the possibility of blocking the App Store and Google Play entirely.
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All figures included in this report are estimated. Unless specified otherwise, estimated revenue is always net, meaning it's the amount the developer earned after Apple and Google took their fee.