What is a VPN, and do I really need it?
A VPN is a privacy protection tool that helps you mask your online identity, ensuring that you can go incognito whenever you want. Plus, it acts as a helmet of sorts – it encrypts your traffic, adds multiple layers of security, and generally makes your Internet more as it should be in the first place.
A VPN can help you combat privacy-invading laws
Did you know that your Internet Service Provider can legally sell anonymized data they acquire from their users in the US? If that sounds bad, just think about the information your ISP has. To put it simply, they know everything about what you do online.
Sure, they’re not about to pull up lists of 10 Most Embarrassing Websites You Have Visited During the Lockdown. What they absolutely will do (and are doing already) is use that information to help advertisers sell their products to you even better.
Simply logging out of your Google account won’t do the trick here (and neither will using incognito mode). However, when you turn on a VPN, your ISP can forget about collecting massive amounts of data. You can pretty much become a mystery, and, more importantly, prevent advertisers from using your data without consent.
Plus, you can access a whole new world of content
Back in my day, there was no such thing as this video is unavailable in your country or better Netflix libraries (or any Netflix, really). Reminiscing for the old-timey internet is not very productive. Still, you can pretty much get it back by investing in a VPN that is actually able to unblock whatever you want to see online.
Found out that all the best-rated TV shows aren’t on your Netflix library? Well, that library is literally two clicks away. It’s not just Netflix, of course – you can also join the early-bird crowd and stream Peacock from outside the US, enjoy some Disney + from wherever, and generally simply access any geo-blocked streaming site.
VPNs are also great for accessing blocked apps or sites and bypassing restrictive network limitations (think work or university). If you’re ever traveling to a country that experiences a lot of digital censorship, a VPN will also become very helpful.
Do I need a VPN at home?
If there’s anything we all have in common this year, is that we kind of collectively became a bunch of homebodies. This leads to a very natural question – is your home, the space you feel safest at, in need of some extra privacy thanks to a VPN?
Here’s why you need a VPN at home: protecting every device you have (especially those not-so-smart smart devices, accessing streaming content that’s geoblocked, and making sure you’re really as private as you should be.
Use a VPN to secure all your devices
How many gadgets do you have at home that connect to the Internet? In 2019, the average American household had more than 9 such devices, and even if you’re not based in the US, there’s a good chance you have at least a few.
Using a VPN is a great way to make sure none of those leak your information. Surfshark, for example, lets you connect an unlimited amount of devices to each account. If you’re worried about installing a VPN app on your smart fridge (we’re kidding), you can simply get a VPN for your router and forget about it.
Make your private digital life actually private – and more fun, too
If you’ve never used a VPN before, you may not immediately see how you can use it every day. However, it’s kind of hard to go back once you get into the groove of things! For one, streaming with a VPN is pretty much only limited by your imagination (forget pesky geoblocking once and for all).
Plus, you can hide your online activities from your ISP, especially if you live in a country with lacking privacy laws or simply enjoy sharing P2P files. If you opt for Surfshark, you can also use our in-built CleanWeb feature – it blocks ads, plus, prevents you from visiting malicious sites infected with malware or attempting to phish you.
Are there any cons to using a VPN?
Well, everything above does sound pretty neat, right? However, there are a few things to consider before you get a VPN. For example, it’s illegal in some countries (think China – it’s actually very rare for a country to outright ban using VPNs).
One thing you should consider carefully is how trustworthy is your potential VPN provider. We’re talking about your privacy here – so it’s essential that you know they will not collect any logs and make sure that your security is their top priority. And that’s not it.
A free VPN is usually worse than no VPN
The “downright horrible” part is sharing their user data with the Chinese authorities. And if that wasn’t bad enough, these free VPN apps can come with an extra feature of malware. 38% of ones on the Android app store, according to this 2019 research by CSIRO.
Plus, they’re often riddled with ads, because their creators are looking for ways to monetize the “free” service. The lack of proper funding also means that it’s almost inevitable to get very few incredibly slow servers.
Even a good VPN will slow you down a bit
If you’ve used free and premium VPN services in the past, you’ll know that just about any paid VPN beats a free one when it comes to speed. Let’s take that out of the equation and only talk about reliable providers.
Any VPN slows you down. That’s simply due to the nature of technology: all your data is encrypted, sent via remote servers, and it’s inevitable that your original Internet speed is at least a bit better.
AV-comparatives offers very comprehensive research on VPN speed, and which providers will go the easiest on you. It’s also a good idea to check out how many servers you’ll choose from. Generally, more servers mean better performance, but it’s better to have fewer quality servers than a ton of underperforming ones.
But you can also test VPN speed for yourself and see whether it works for you. At the end of the day, it’s better to lose a megabyte or two to protect your privacy (or, let’s be honest, stream that unavailable in your country show).
What happens if I don’t use a VPN?
If you’re still at the “should I get a VPN” stage of deliberation, it may be worth looking at it from a different perspective. Sure, there are many uses for a VPN, but what can happen if you don’t have this tool?
The reality of that is difficult to conclude. It depends a lot on your particular context – your ISP may sell data about you if you’re in the US, you may get a warning letter for torrenting, or you might miss out on a number of movies and shows on Netflix.
A lot of privacy issues happen behind closed doors. You may not be aware that somebody has eyes on you and think your data is very valuable, but that is the sad reality of the Internet in 2020.
So, your mileage may vary – you may experience something very tangible if you don’t use a VPN, or simply sacrifice your privacy without informed consent. Only you can decide if a VPN is worth getting – but at the very least, the idea is definitely worth exploring.
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