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Do Filters Work If I'm Using a VPN?

Short answer:
If you are using a VPN, in almost all cases your FreeFiltering settings and filters will not work.

Longer explanation:
VPNs are used for different reasons depending on who’s doing the using. For our purposes here we’ll be talking about the two most common scenarios:

  1. Individuals using a VPN service for privacy reasons.
  2. Employers using a VPN so their workers can access things on the internal company network from home.


1.  Individuals Using a VPN Service for Privacy Reasons
This type of VPN setup breaks your FreeFiltering filtering in two different ways. The first is that your DNS requests are sent to the VPN provider’s DNS servers rather than the servers you have set in your device/router settings (which would be the FreeFiltering ones). Most VPN providers give you the option to change this setting and instead point to the DNS servers you prefer, so it’s easy enough to just have the VPN use FreeFiltering’s DNS servers. But then you come to the second way VPNs cause problems for your filtering. When you’re browsing the internet and using our DNS servers, we need to know who you are so we can apply the correct settings and filters enabled for your account. We do this by looking at your IP address. If you’re using a VPN and you change the DNS from their servers to ours, we see all your DNS requests as coming from the VPN company’s IP address, not yours. (This is how VPNs make your internet activity private. All your interactions with websites, apps, etc., look like they’re coming from the VPN company instead of you.) So we get your DNS requests, but we don’t know who you are - so we can’t apply your specific filters and settings.

Possible Workaround:  If you're a Premium user, you get access to "DNS over HTTPS" and "DNS over TLS".  By utilizing one of these methods for your DNS requests, you get a couple benefits:

  1. Your DNS requests between your device and our servers become "encrypted", so no one in between us can see which websites you're requesting.
  2. We can recognize you, even if you're using a VPN - so we know which FreeFiltering profile's filtering settings to apply.  Here's how it might work:
    a)  You use your "Main Profile" in FreeFiltering to set up filters which are applied by default to any device connected to your wi-fi.  (You must manually adjust your router settings to use our "Standard DNS Servers" for this automatic filtering to work.)
    b)  You, the parent, are using a VPN on your particular device in order to protect your privacy.  But this means your DNS requests appear to us as originating from a different IP address than the requests from your router come from.
    c)  As a Premium user, you can create an additional profile in your account;  you might name it "Parent #1".  A unique URL is generated for the "Parent #1" FreeFiltering profile for use with "DNS over HTTPS" or "DNS over TLS".  It will look something like this:  UserID.freefiltering.org or https://UserID.freefiltering.org/dns-query
    d)  You change the DNS settings for your Operating System (Windows, Mac, Android, or iOS) to use the "DNS over HTTPS" or "DNS over TLS" URL from your "Parent #1" profile.  Alternatively, if it is not possible to set secure DNS on your Operating System, you could use secure DNS in the browsers you use the most (Chrome, Safari, Edge, Firefox, Brave, etc).  In order to adjust the DNS for your Operating System or favorite browser, just use a search engine to conduct a search like this:  "how to set DNS over HTTPS/TLS on Windows / Mac / Android / iOS / Chrome / Safari / Edge / Brave".
    e)  Using the unique URL that is specific to your profile lets us know to respond with the specific filter settings from your "Parent #1" profile, even IF you are also using a VPN for privacy.


2.  Employers Using a VPN for Remote Workers
There are a lot of different VPN types and configurations when it comes to work VPNs. Depending on how your company has things configured you may be able to have both the VPN and your FreeFiltering filters coexist pretty peacefully and painlessly.

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