If you’re anything like most people, you probably aren’t too comfortable with the lack of privacy that has become associated with online spaces. The internet has become one giant billboard for corporations to post on, a haven for marketing executives to test ad campaigns and a prime way for those same executives to collect data on consumers. With social spaces like Facebook and Instagram making money through ad revenue and selling customer data to interested corporations, it’s impossible to avoid the monetization of your data entirely, especially if you privilege the use of such spaces.
But things like corporations placing cookies on your browser so you see their targeted ads? Or using device fingerprinting techniques to ID and trace your internet activity? That level of corporate interference is something you can and should affect. With a virtual private network (or VPN), you can avoid all of the tricks corporations, hackers, and even the government employ to make sure your information stays in your hands.
VPN’s: What Are They, and What Do They Do
A VPN is a server that you can connect to that will create an encrypted, unique channel through which you browse the internet. Because your activity is being run through this channel, your IP address is functionally cloaked, meaning it’s impossible to track or trace back to you. Whether you’re spending your free time streaming anime or browsing through a big-box retailer’s website, your activity will be kept your own.
Uses on Public Networks
VPNs might seem like a needless security concern or perhaps an antidote for paranoiacs, but they have a variety of uses that address the needs of everyday people. For example, keeping your information safe when connecting to public networks. When you connect to a public network, you have no idea who owns the network or who may be watching, looking for opportunities to commit a cybercrime. VPNs will keep your information safe while connected to such high-risk networks, as well as keep your identity hidden.
Uses on Private Networks
If you aren’t aware of the recent dissolution of net-neutrality protections, you probably aren’t aware that your internet service provider (or ISP) has more power over you than ever. Under net-neutrality protections, ISPs could not limit or affect consumers’ open access to services online, or dictate what kinds of devices they could connect to their network. Nowadays, however, ISP’s have been given the power to afford “fast tracks” to services that pay them more, slowing down other services that have not by comparison; this is a practice known as internet throttling. If you have an ISP that has been paid to give Netflix the best service, for example, your Hulu may be slower as a result.
VPNs keep your activity hidden from even your ISP, affording you the kind of protection net neutrality was supposed to provide from their outside interference. They also prevent companies from latching onto your digital footprint, following you through a device-unique identifier, and all the other shady techniques companies use to track your activity across websites.
Using a VPN Across Multiple Devices
VPNs also have the added benefit of being useful on multiple devices. If you use a service like Roku or an Amazon FireStick, VPNs can be used to prevent ISP throttling on unfavored streaming channels. They’re especially useful when jailbreaking devices, as they provide an added modicum of security that may have been lost during the jailbreaking process and block ISPs from affecting your newly configured device’s capabilities. If considering using a VPN across multiple devices, make sure you choose a VPN that’s compatible with what you have.
VPN’s Provide Security in an Increasingly Insecure World
It’s important to acknowledge that VPNs won’t protect you from everything; you’ll still need strong antivirus protection, and companies can still put cookies on your browser unless you decline them. But in combination with a strong security program and another internet best practices, VPNs are a practical, simple, and effective way to keep your information secure