Do you need a VPN? Very likely. Here’s why.
Even if you think you are not being tracked online, you are.
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can see everything you do. While there’s no one at Time Warner Cable sitting in a corner desk watching your every move, many ISPs collect anonymous browsing logs and sometimes sell them to advertising companies. With this data, advertisers can directly customize their content to specific regions or browsing habits.
See also: Net Neutrality is dead and your privacy is at risk. Here are 5 VPNs that can help.
This is one of the main reasons why more and more people online are considering creating a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, which can keep your online behavior private. Up to a quarter of internet users around the world use VPNs, according to a survey from the Global Web Index.
Now there is a definite cause for concern. Last March, the Senate voted to allow ISPs to sell customers’ browsing history without their knowledge or consent. Then in November, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed Obama-era net neutrality regulations, giving ISPs broader control over the data traveling through their networks.
Even setting aside the changing legal landscape, data is always vulnerable to hackers, and a government or law enforcement agency almost certainly has access to it. If you are provided with a subpoena or police order, your ISP must give up your browsing history.
Although we do not endorse doing anything against the law while online, there are many good reasons (many of which are explained below) why you should make it difficult for interested parties to access your online activity, and a VPN is one of them The reasons are among the most reliable.
Your VPN acts as an anonymous intermediary that does the browsing on your behalf.
Some basics of a VPN: A VPN is a secure connection between your computer and a server. Normally, when you go online, you first connect to your ISP (Verizon, Spectrum, Comcast, or someone else), which then connects you to any websites you visit. When you use a VPN, you connect to a server operated by your VPN provider, which routes your traffic instead.
Essentially, your VPN acts as an anonymous intermediary that does the browsing on your behalf, so providers cannot track the sites you visit. This means that your ISP cannot see what you are doing on the Internet. It also means that you appear to be accessing the internet from the IP address of your VPN server (instead of your own IP address), so any website monitoring your activity won’t know where you’re browsing from.
There are many reasons why you might use a VPN:
1. When you are on public Wi-Fi
When you’re using public Wi-Fi, even password-protected ones, a VPN is your best friend. If a hacker is on the same Wi-Fi network, it is very easy for them to snoop on your data. The primary security that the regular coffee shop uses, which is the WPA2 password, doesn’t actually protect you from others on the network in a strong way.
Using a VPN will add an extra layer of security to your data, ensuring that you bypass the coffee shop’s ISP and encrypt all your communications. Pirates will need to find easier prey.
2. When traveling
If you are traveling to a foreign country (for example, China, where sites like Facebook are blocked), a VPN can help you access services that may not be available in that country.
Often times, a VPN will allow you to use streaming services that you paid for and you can access them in your country, but for international rights issues they are not available in another country. Using a VPN can make it seem like you are enjoying the service as if you were at home. VPN usage sees huge spikes from non-US countries during events like the Super Bowl and March Madness. Netflix always tries to crack down on VPN users, but many VPN providers are constantly adapting their services in response. It’s kind of a whack-a-mole game, but some VPNs are, in fact, ahead.
Travelers may also be able to find cheaper airline tickets when using a VPN, as prices can vary from region to region.
See also: Best VPNs for Mac Users Looking for Privacy
3. When you are a remote worker or student
Many employers require the use of a VPN to access company services remotely for security reasons. A VPN that connects to your office server can give you access to internal corporate networks and resources when you are not in the office. It can do the same for your home network while you’re abroad.
4. When you are a political dissident
Some countries do not have the same protections for freedom of the press, speech, and expression that many Western countries do, and some regimes even take drastic measures to monitor and take action against those they consider threats to the system.
We should mention that for political opponents, the use of a VPN (among other privacy tools) is essential to using the Internet under an oppressive regime. However, it is not a panacea, and governments are starting to crack down on its use.
5. When you just want some privacy
Even when you are in the comfort of your own home, doing your usual internet stuff, and using a VPN is not a bad idea. Generally, this will prevent you from leaving footprints on the web until your ISP can detect them.
However, when choosing a VPN for everyday browsing, it pays to do your research.
See also: These are the best VPNs for your Android device
A word of caution about VPNs
With a VPN, it is true that your ISP may not have access to your browsing data, but the VPN provider does now. Some VPNs even sell this data to third parties, just like your ISP may or may not, that way you can get back to where you started. That’s why you should be especially wary of “free” VPNs. These services still have to make money, and your data will likely be your primary source of income. However, the terms of a VPN may be more favorable to your privacy than, say, Comcast’s terms. However, if you want to run things more securely, you’d better pay for a VPN.
Some paid VPNs still log user data, which just means that any subpoena may go from your ISP to the VPN provider. However, it can potentially be difficult for law enforcement to obtain that data if your VPN is not local to your country.
In short: If you’re concerned about privacy for any reason, using a VPN is a great option – just be sure to read the finer details of your VPN provider. And don’t always take their word for it — some VPN providers claim they keep no logs of user data, but third parties have discovered evidence that they do.
There are many other precautions you can take to protect your online privacy besides using a VPN. One is the privacy-focused Tor Browser, which hides your traffic by redirecting it through a series of nodes, each of which can see only parts of your IP address, making it extremely difficult to track users. Tor is free to use. The Tor Project, a nonprofit that builds the browser, is funded mostly through grants and donations.
Are you ready to find a VPN that best suits your needs? Here are Mashable’s picks:
1. VPN private internet access
“It installs in a jiffy and comes with tons of features for all types of users, no matter if you are just a beginner in using a VPN or an advanced user who loves to use settings. “
“Choose this VPN if you care about download and upload speeds. “
“NordVPN is one of the easiest VPNs to set up across all your devices. “
“If you are new to VPNs and probably find computer interfaces intimidating, then TunnelBear is the VPN for you. You won’t find a simpler and more awesome (dare we say) VPN.”
“If you are a heavy BitTorrent user, TorGuard is the VPN you are looking for.”
6. KeepSolid VPN Unlimited
“If you are in a country where some video services are blocked, but you still want to access them, we recommend KeepSolid VPN Unlimited.”
Editor’s Note: IPVanish is owned by J2 Global, the parent company of Ziff Davis, the publisher of Mashable. Any of the J2 products featured on Mashable are independently covered by our content team.
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