Update November 2019
Buffered was taken over by Encrypt.me, a service totally separate from its former owner. As such, this article isn’t entirely relevant still, but we’re keeping it around for posterity’s sake (also, we did a kick-ass job and we’d like to show it off).
Update May 9th, 2019
Since we wrote this in February 2019, there have been some changes with BestVPN.com and how it handles its relationship with Buffered VPN. As we’re rather proud of the work we did on this piece, we’ll let it stand as it is, but we have added an new section below, which you can jump to from here.
There are a lot of ways to make money. For example, you could run a review website that makes its money off affiliate links like we do. Alternatively, you could start a virtual private network service that charges subscribers money to use it like, say, ExpressVPN does. You could, of course, do both at the same time. In that case, you’re like Pete Zaborszky.
Zaborszky is the owner of BestVPN.com, a website dedicated to reviewing VPN providers. He’s also the owner of Buffered VPN, a VPN provider. You won’t find either company advertising that relationship, but after we received a tip from a reader, we put on our gumshoes and hit the digital bricks.
What we uncovered is a massive swindle in which BestVPN.com encourages its readers to subscribe to a VPN that handles their data carelessly while charging them through the nose for the privilege. For evidence, we’ll submit the wildly enthusiastic review of Buffered VPN by BestVPN.com. Before we get to that, though, we’d like to unravel some corporate yarn.
BestVPN.com: The Company
BestVPN.com is a website that has been around for some time and is generally regarded as having decent reviews. Its owner and chairman is Zaborszky, who is based in Budapest, Hungary, and its managing director is Scott Byrom, as per the “about us” page on the site.
BestVPN.com’s parent company is the UK-based 4Choice Ltd., which runs several review websites like it. According to his LinkedIn, as well as publicly available records, Zaborszky is the owner, while Byrom and Paul Martin McCormick serve as the directors of this company. McCormick’s name isn’t on any of 4Choice’s websites, though.
Nothing out of place so far, but when we got word of a rumor that Zaborszky was also the owner of Buffered VPN, a mediocre provider that BestVPN.com consistently gives high scores to in its reviews and roundups, we got curious and did a little digging.
Our source assured us there was a connection, but could not offer proof. A look at the LinkedIn pages of Zaborszky and Byrom shows that neither makes mention of Buffered VPN, but the best way to make sure is to look at that company, too.
Buffered VPN: The Company
According to its website, Buffered VPN is two companies: Buffered Kft., a company registered in Budapest, Hungary, and Buffered Limited, which is registered in Gibraltar. Kft. stands for Korlátolt Felelõsségû Társaság and means that it’s a limited company, much like you’d find anywhere in the world.
As far as we can tell, Buffered Kft. handles the money that comes in — when you sign up for Buffered VPN, it’s the company that shows up on the invoice — while the Gibraltar company serves as some kind of corporate holding. None of the documents we found made the relationship clear, though on Buffered VPN’s mobile app the Gibraltar company is described as the owner.
From Humble Beginnings
Buffered VPN was started in 2013 by Jordan Fried, an American adventurer looking to make something of himself. According to this article, he struck upon the idea of starting a VPN with an unnamed programmer, and they did. Fried sold the company, or at least his share, in 2017, to an unknown buyer we now suspect to be Zaborszky.
We believe the unnamed programmer to be Gergely Kálmán, or at least his LinkedIn profile would suggest so. Kálmán became CEO of Buffered Kft. after Fried left, stayed on until June 2018 and is now freelancing. The new CEO is Andor Nagl, who rose from the ranks of customer service to the top chair in three years, which is quite a feat.
That said, Nagl does not own Buffered Kft. His name doesn’t show up on the records we found, which are available publicly online. According to those, the executive officer of Buffered Kft. is one Szentes Vidor Ferenc, who shows up as the owner of a few tech and finance firms but nowhere on the Buffered VPN website. Note that we used Google Translate for the Hungarian paperwork.
We’re not sure what exactly Szentes’ role in the company is because he hasn’t responded to our messages, nor has Buffered VPN or Kálmán.
The Gibraltar Connection
The other portion of Buffered, the company registered in Gibraltar, is more straightforward. Though the company registeration there isn’t as easily accessible as that of Buffered Kft. — getting Buffered Ltd.’s records involved a few emails, a phone call and use of the company credit card to pay the $20 fee — the document made no bones about who owns the company.
The shareholders listed are 4Choice Ltd., with 1,400 shares, Kálmán, with 400 shares, and Zaborszky, with 200 shares, for a total of 2,000 shares. Zaborszky and an administrative company are listed as directors, proving that the fates of 4Choice and Buffered, and as a result BestVPN.com and Buffered VPN, are intertwined.
The Cost to Consumers
That intertwining is bad news for consumers. There’s a reason we had to find an obscure piece of paper to find out who are the true owners of Buffered VPN are, rather than reading it on LinkedIn or either company’s website.
Contrast that with our lukewarm Buffered VPN review and you can see the problem. For one, our speed tests put Buffered VPN nowhere near the fastest VPN providers around, yet BestVPN.com concludes with its “scientific speed test” that the VPN regularly trumps the competition, a claim that we find hard to believe.
Another major issue is Buffered VPN’s data collection and log policy. We were shocked at the amount of personal information the supposedly secure VPN hoovered up about its users, but BestVPN.com makes no mention of it, despite the data being accessible from the main dashboard.
Those two major issues, as well as a host of smaller ones (including the high subscription cost), lead us to believe that BestVPN.com’s management, and likely Zaborszky himself, are manipulating the way Buffered VPN is represented for their own personal gain. That behavior is a far cry from the “reader-supported” website BestVPN.com claims to be.
It’s also clear that some members of the team weren’t part of the extolling of Buffered VPN. It doesn’t show up among BestVPN.com’s selection of the best VPNs, for example, which is odd considering it’s apparently one of the best services out there and has a higher score than some of the top five providers BestVPN.com has put together.
That gives us the feeling that the grunts at BestVPN.com were either unaware of Buffered VPN having the same owner or it was something they disapproved of.
We’ve not been able to discuss any of the above with either Zaborszky himself, or any of the staff or directors of 4Choice or BestVPN.com as nobody has yet answered any of our emails.
When we first caught a whiff of the rumor that Buffered VPN and BestVPN.com had the same owner, we didn’t believe it, but our brief investigation shows that it is true. In the end, what’s most surprising isn’t the cynical manipulation of readers, but how little effort was made to cover it up.
Though complete objectivity is impossible to guarantee in a system where most review sites, including Cloudwards.net, are financed by affiliate links, having publications own the services they review is beyond the pale and erodes what little faith consumers have in the kind of journalism we practice.
We hope Zaborszky makes the right choice for its readers and divests his company from its interest in Buffered VPN and starts writing honest VPN reviews again.
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What do you think of BestVPN.com and Buffered VPN having the same owner? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.
BestVPN.com New Developments
Since writing this piece in February, BestVPN for all intents and purposes has ceased to exist, rebranding itself as ProPrivacy.com and pointing all BestVPN.com traffic toward the new domain. This is likely due to some issues the site was having with attracting visitors, we’re not exactly sure, but the mini-scandal our piece caused certainly didn’t help.
What else is new is that these days ProPrivacy.com does admit that it owns Buffered VPN in a text box at the top of its review, and has adjusted the score downward to 8.0. Still a bit high in our opinion, but there you go. We’ve placed a screenshot of the statement below for your viewing pleasure.
All that said, though, this Buffered VPN review is a straight-up copy-n-paste job from the older one, so besides the score and a belated admission, not much has changed. We’ll keep you posted if anything changes.