There's no shortage of VPNs and proxy services these days, and every corner of the internet is littered with ads for the same. I'm cynical of VPNs as a rule, so when I was asked to take a look at Lantern, I went in with a decent amount of skepticism. The service has seen a lot of momentum in countries like Iran in recent months, and has amassed 10 million downloads on the Play Store globally, with over 8 million users in Iran. The basic premise of Lantern is that it provides access to blocked websites, and it promises to do so even when traditional VPNs go down.
That is an area where Lantern is different; it isn't a full-fledged VPN that creates a tunnel to another region and serves data from that country. Instead, it is a proxy service that aims to unblock websites that have been targeted for shutdown in authoritative regimes. I talked to the folks behind Lantern, and was told that the service was used by protestors in Iran to evade the local government's censorship of social media sites like Twitter.
While there is a free version of Lantern, it is limited to 6Mbit and you get just 500MB of data, and once you cross that figure, the connection is throttled. There's a paid tier that costs $48 a year and offers unlimited data, so you end up paying a similar amount as most VPN services. But the big differentiator for Lantern is that it rotates through thousands of IPs a day, so even when a VPN goes down in a region, Lantern's proxy service should still work for unblocking websites.
Lantern is available for Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, and Linux, and you can also download the installers via its GitHub page. I used the Android client for most of the testing, setting it up on my Galaxy S23 Ultra and Pixel 7 Pro. The interface itself is as barebones as it gets; unlike a VPN, there's no way to select a region to connect to — Lantern does that automatically. So if you're looking to use a proxy to stream content from another country, this isn't the service for you.
Lantern says it will offer users the ability to select regions in a forthcoming update, but there's no timeline for when the feature will be available. In its current state, there's just a toggle to enable the proxy service, and it runs in the background. It doesn't filter all outgoing traffic on your device, instead kicking in when it detects a site has been blocked in a particular region; in those instances, it uses a proxy server to load the page.
As for security, Lantern anonymizes your data in transit, and the brand notes that it flushes server logs every day and doesn't store any user data. That includes user credentials; there's no account management as such, and if you buy a Pro account, you get a code that you'll need to key in on every device you use to unlock unlimited data (it works on up to three devices). The lack of account management is an annoyance; I use zero-knowledge services like ZeroTier and Tailscale that do a much better job in this regard, and Lantern says that it is considering going a similar route.
In my usage, I found Lantern to be just as fast as my VPN of choice — ProtonVPN — and it did a decent job unblocking websites. That said, there are limitations around usability — there's no way to select a region, no account management, and the free tier is hobbled by bandwidth restrictions. If you just need a reliable way to stay safe online, a VPN still makes a lot of sense as it gives you better privacy and more choice with regards to region selection.
And even in scenarios where a VPN is targeted by a government, the IPs are cycled frequently enough that you can get back up without too much of a hassle. Lantern clearly has a few benefits in how aggressively it rotates IPs and the fact that it guarantees uptime when similar services go down, but that only comes in handy in countries like Iran and China, and it's no wonder that an overwhelming majority of the service's userbase is in those regions.
Another differentiator for the service is a Discover feature that's essentially a P2P network. Users have the ability to upload documents, audio and videos, and images that can be accessed by other Lantern users. It is useful in getting around content restrictions, and the local nature of the service means content uploaded in a region stays in that country.
Ultimately, Lantern does a good job as a proxy service, but it isn't the only one to do so. Free services like Freegate do a decent enough job when it comes to unblocking websites, and if you need additional features, I'd still suggest going with a VPN. Lantern's best use case is evading censorship, and I intend to test the service to a better extent the next time I'm in China. Accessing a reliable VPN is always a hassle in the country, so I want to see if Lantern's claims of providing access to the broader internet hold up in that situation.
Considering what the Pro tier costs and the inherent limitations, Lantern doesn't really make sense as a general-use proxy service or as an alternative to a VPN. I'll update the post should that change, but for now, you're still better off with one of the services in our VPN buyer's guide — my recommendation is ProtonVPN or Mullvad.