The rising popularity of virtual private networks raises a natural question: why use a VPN in the first place? Do you really need it? Well, it depends on your relationship with the digital world and what you consider to be important. This service can be beneficial in many ways, but, in its core, a VPN offers better privacy, security, and the open internet. Does that sound important to you? Or are you skeptical?
Let’s define a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a service that allows you to connect to the internet via an encrypted tunnel connecting your device to a remote VPN server. This way, anything you do on the internet is private.
And privacy has never been more relevant to an everyday internet user. Data collection, personalized phishing attacks (aka spear phishing), hacking attempts, identity theft, corporate surveillance, ISP snooping, and various forms of online tracking leave people craving digital protection.
What do existing VPN users have to say?
Who better to ask why you should go for a VPN than those who already use it.
While motivations for having a VPN differ depending on a region, the overall tendencies look like this:
|Access more entertainment||50%|
|Access social media and news sites||34%|
|Be anonymous while browsing||31%|
|Access files and sites at work||30%|
|Access restricted torrent sites||27%|
|Keep in touch with friends and family abroad||25%|
|Hide my browsing habits from the government||18%|
|Access a Tor browser||17%|
How VPNs came to be
You can already tell that increasingly more internet users turn to VPNs for privacy protection and better access to sites and services, but it wasn’t like this at first.
Governments, businesses, and corporations started using VPNs to protect their assets and allow employees to access company files at home or abroad. To this day, it’s a crucial tool in any business setting.
But let’s move on to more specific use cases benefiting everyday internet users, shall we?
Use a VPN to protect your online privacy & data
|Hide your browsing activity||Escape targeted advertising||Mask your IP address|
|Prevent phishing & malware||Stay secure when online banking||Block ads and trackers|
A VPN grants you some degree of anonymity online, but don’t be fooled by claims that VPNs make you anonymous. It’s a myth. The tool strengthens your digital privacy by sending your traffic through an encrypted, private tunnel, and by switching your real IP address for a new one. VPN users can surf the internet privately, not worrying about ISP tracking, data collection, or prying eyes.
There’s no conspiracy involved in thinking you’re being tracked and watched online. If you weren’t, there would be no countries restricting VPN usage.
|The United Arab Emirates||Restricted|
Are we normalizing online tracking?
I’m not trying to fearmonger you into thinking there’s some specific entity watching everything you do on the internet, but your presence online is in no way private or anonymous. Whether someone wants to sell you something or sell your data to someone whose intentions are even shadier, online tracking is invasive, and, most of the time, done without your consent.
Not everyone tries to hide that your privacy is in jeopardy, though. For example, internet service providers in the US (that includes AT&T, Comcast, and others) are legally allowed to sell users’ data to advertisers. On top of privacy concerns, there are also worries about datasets leaking that would potentially put users’ personal information in such places as dark web forums.
Phishing attacks are only getting smarter
Not clicking suspicious links you get in an email seems obvious to most internet users, but modern phishing attacks are smart and thought-out. Even savvy internet users can fall victim to that. Verizon has run a study to test the success rate of a phishing attack, and after gathering around 3 million users across more than 2000 organizations, they successfully phished 7.3%.
And that’s the number they got after an untargeted, generic attack. Success rates of a tailored phishing attempt (also called spear phishing or social engineering attacks) are about nine times higher.
A VPN in itself cannot fight social engineering attacks, but to some degree it can help prevent phishing attempts from reaching your eyesight on the internet.
Use a VPN to bypass regional restrictions
|Stream TV shows & movies privately||Avoid censorship||Bypass network restrictions|
|Avoid sports blackouts||Bring entertainment abroad||Unlock more entertainment|
No matter where you reside, you’ve probably encountered website blocks based on location. Geo-blocking encompasses social media blocks (e.g., Instagram, Twitter), streaming service restrictions (e.g., different Netflix libraries), and sports blackouts. By virtually transferring you to another country, VPNs help you enjoy previously-unavailable entertainment.
Conquering the censorship laws
Things get a bit more serious when it comes to digital censorship. While it’s irritating to see the unavailable-in-your-region messages when trying to access Hulu, some have it worse than others. Digital censorship is common in countries with less democratic politics. I’ve provided a table with regions banning and restricting VPNs, but online censorship is even more widespread. So, in those cases, a VPN offers internet users a lifejacket.
Use a VPN to access exclusive benefits
|Stay safe on public Wi-Fi||Avoid price discrimination||Boost browsing speeds|
|Save mobile data||Protect your family devices||Prevent bank account freezes|
As you can see from everything I’ve written so far, a VPN helps with ensuring better privacy and bypassing website blocks. But on top of that, there are also some cool extra functionalities. Let’s get into a couple of them.
Avoid security threats on unprotected networks
Public Wi-Fi poses lots of security risks: man-in-the-middle attacks, rogue spots, packet analyzers, worms, mishandled WI-Fi setup, to name a few. Hackers can exploit you in many ways by taking your full name, birth date, email, or even home address, personal phone number, bank credentials, medical information, insurance details. Stolen data can result in criminal acts like identity theft or fraudulent purchases.
If you have to use public Wi-Fi networks, it’s better to be safe and use a VPN than be sorry later.
Don’t be fooled by price discrimination
Did you know that you can save money by using a VPN? There’s more information about that in the article I just linked to, but here’s the gist: price discrimination based on your location is very common, and not enough people know about it. It’s more than likely that you’re being shown different prices for the same services than someone in another country.
Price discrimination is wildly popular in the travel industry. The price of plane tickets, rentals, or hotel rooms can differ depending on whether you live in Canada or Italy. By using a VPN, you can manipulate your location and appear to be anywhere your VPN provider has servers.
Before we go our separate ways
To sum this whole thing up, why should you use a VPN?
From the lack of digital privacy and online tracking concerns to geo-blocked websites to unsafe public networks and price discrimination — it’s clear that we lack a lot of agency on the internet. A VPN isn’t a superhero tool that solves every privacy and security issue, but it does enough privacy protection to scare authoritarian-leaning countries into banning it.
Take back your right to privacy & the open internet with a VPN
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