If you’ve been clued into the news on internet privacy recently, you’re probably no stranger to the buzz around Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). So, what is a VPN, and more importantly, why the sudden sense of urgency around protecting your data everywhere from the airport to your own home?
Exploring the Rocky State of the Current Digital Environment
Online privacy has been a hotly contested area of debate for a long time, but more recently, both the House and Senate agreed to move towards a less regulated online environment. During Obama’s presidency, there was a regulation put in place that required ISPs, internet service providers, to obtain a consumer’s permission (that’s us, and whoever else uses the internet) before collecting and selling private data.
As of April 3, 2017, President Trump signed a joint resolution (S.J.Res.34) that nullified the FCC’s “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services.” It was a landmark decision: ISPs now have the unrestricted ability to access 100% of your online activity and sell it to the highest bidder without your consent. This includes data you share on websites you visit, apps you use and even which types of devices you own.
In fact, every time you use the internet, you transmit data through your IP address. How exactly? Every gadget and computer is assigned a unique IP, and your internet service provider can legally use your IP to harvest your data how it chooses.
Historically, prior to the Obama administration, ISPs had the right to use your data within the confines of the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission rules. So, when you compare net losses, the situation hasn’t changed too much, but it certainly hasn’t improved. After all, the privacy policies that the former administration attempted to put into play were shot down.
Make no mistake, the implications of a completely deregulated internet environment are dark.
The US government is essentially allowing ISPs to continue to: sell your browsing history to interested parties, share your searches with third parties, monitor your traffic and, as a result, fill the sites you visit with ads. Companies can legally track you and your activity with undetectable cookies in any of your non-encrypted traffic (think public Wi-Fi connection), and even pre-install software on phones that will monitor all your traffic moving forward.
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Why This Matters Today More Than Ever
What’s the big deal if we never had much internet privacy to start? As technology becomes more and more sophisticated, expect increasingly advanced targeting methodology. Advertising will become more and more aggressive, especially around data collection and retention.
And that’s just through legal means. Whatever companies decide to do through legitimized marketing purposes, expect a more nefarious underbelly—we have yet to see what new hacking tactics are to come.
How Can You Protect Your Data?
Circling back to our first point: VPNs—what are they, and how can they help? You might already be working at a company that uses a VPN, especially if you’re dealing with sensitive or confidential information on a daily basis. A VPN, or a Virtual Private Network, creates a secure, encrypted connection between your computer or device and a private server. That means that no one else can see your activity or modify (aka hack) that traffic.
So, whenever you browse the internet using a VPN, your data travels to the secure server and then back to you in a tunnel-like fashion. When you are interacting with a site or app, all your data will appear to be coming from the IP address associated with remote server, rather than your own. This helps make you actually anonymous on the web. And while some less reputable VPN companies can log your activity and law enforcement can request data from your VPN company, it certainly does mean that you’re putting a stop to ISPs using your data against you for aggressive advertising tactics.
In short, a VPN is great for those wary of the outcome of a deregulated internet or fearful of growing cyber attacks. But keep in mind, not all VPNs are equal. Despite how a VPN can shield you from hackers, government surveillance and malware, take caution against using a free service. Check carefully for reports of security flaws, and make sure you have a good idea of what the company is actually doing with your data. If you’re a privacy stickler, double check to see that the company isn’t keeping a log of your activities (it’s rarer than you think).
A shortlist of features to look for in a premium VPN service:
- Number of servers and geographic locations — the more locations, the more options you have
- Bandwidth — this greatly affects the speed of your service, and how much you’ll actually get out of the service
- Mobile protection on public Wi-Fi connections — while protection at home is great, most people browse the internet on their mobile device when they’re on the road
- Logs of activity — does your service take a log of your account activity and what are their policies around your data?
Read Next: Top 10 VPNs for iPhone/iPad
We compiled 10 best VPN service for our users. Winner is a verified service VPN Unlimited: Lifetime Subscription, which is a great pick for those who might not know where to start. VPN Unlimited protects both your cellular and Wi-Fi connections, meaning your data is fully secure and encrypted even as you travel. And thanks to unlimited traffic bandwidth and a high-speed connection, you don’t need to worry about lags in service as you move around, or data restrictions.
VPN Unlimited employs a growing selection of servers globally: up to 70+ locations in 50+ countries including USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan, with more than 1000 servers around the globe. Plus, this VPN service blocks ads, malware and tracking systems with a newly included DNS Firewall.
In short, the landscape around digital policies in 2017 is up in the air. It’s important to take measures now to protect yourself and your data against whatever interests both the government and other entities might have in it. And while a VPN might not be a flawless solution, it certainly works to make it difficult to prevent ISPs from simply scooping up your data and selling it to the highest bidder.