Technology

Why would anyone buy a subscription to a virtual private network (VPN) for privacy on the Web?

 

Note: This article has affiliate links.

 

When you purchase access to the internet, you do not have automatic protection of your privacy. Even if whatever you do on the web seems to be hidden in your computer, your online moves are recorded by your browser and your internet service provider (ISP). Although you may not need to worry that your online activities are known by others, you have no control over how they will interpret them. When you look at a website that sells cars, a third party may not know your real intention for doing so but may still decide to target you with ads of cars for sale.

Since the pandemic caused by COVID-19, more people have used the internet to take care of vital needs, which they used to deal with offline. These people, possibly you included, spend more of their time online and share more information about them, and some of the shared data are private information, such as their medical conditions. However, you have no guarantee how your internet service provider manages all your online records. While you might have had the option to keep some aspects of your life offline in the past, you now have less of a choice with the challenges caused by COVID-19.

Also, you probably would like to enjoy surfing the web instead of constantly worrying about how others could understand your choice of websites you visit. While your internet service provider may ignore most of what you do online, it saves everything and that information is retrievable if needed, and you may not have the option to ask your provider to delete your online record nor the option to rectify how third parties interpret your online activities.

Buying a subscription to a virtual private network (VPN) service, such as NordVPN, can be handy if you would like to steer away from the troubles arising from disclosure of online records. In what follows, you will find out some of the reasons you need to purchase access to a VPN. Besides keeping your online visits private, you will soon know some of the additional benefits of using a VPN (such as NordVPN), some of which are access to your favorite websites even if they are blocked overseas, protection of your data when using a public Wi-Fi, and protection of your devices against malware.

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Your web history can be used by marketers to bombard you with ads.

When you visit the web, your internet service provider has a record of all the websites you have visited. Whether it be this pair of shoes, this car, or these videos you have looked at, your internet service provider has all this stored. Marketers love this trove of data because they can use it to show you ads you may be interested in. Ever wonder why you kept seeing ads of cars when you visit websites? You have probably looked at cars online, so marketers figured that you might be interested in buying one.

Many internet service providers explain in their privacy policies how they deal with your data. For example, Xfinity offers internet access as a service; in its February 2021 version of its privacy policy, it explains how it collects its customers’ data and share them to third parties.

AT&T also offers internet access. In its privacy policy (to be effective on November 1st, 2021), it details the information it collects from its customers, such as the websites they visit, the ads they click on, and the videos they watch. It also discloses how the collected information is to be used, such as for advertisement and marketing purposes.

Verizon’s privacy policy also details how the company collects its customers’ data, such as their website visits, locations, and video views, and discloses how and why it shares the data, such as for marketing purposes.

A VPN service provider, such as NordVPN, has a strict no-log policy, so your web history is not stored nor shared with anyone. While you are using a VPN, your internet service provider knows nothing about your online whereabouts but the fact that you are using a VPN. 

Your web history can be accessed without your consent.

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Your internet service provider (ISP) may explain in its privacy policy how you can opt out in its data collection and sharing programs. Some ISPs may give you the option to contact them if you cannot follow their instructions. However, your ISP may still use your data without your consent. Although some ISPs may say when they will share your data without your consent, others may go further.

According to an article in the New York Times, the U.S. has collected the web histories of many of its citizens without their consent. It has also collected logs of their phone calls.

According to Slate, Mauritius has enacted laws that would allow the government to divert its citizens’ web traffic to its servers so that it can identify the source of the traffic and block messages deemed unsuitable to be published.

The Guardian also mentions in this article that two internet service providers have secretly tracked and collected websites that its customers visited; they have recorded the websites, when their customers visited them, and how much data they downloaded.

If you go online on Google or Safari Incognito Mode, neither prevents your internet service providers from tracking your online activities. That feature instead stops your computer from saving your online activities, such as your browsing history. You can find out more in this article.

You can access your favorite TV shows when abroad.

data collection and sharing

If you travel around the world and would like to watch your favorite TV shows while abroad, you may unfortunately be unable to do so because of geo-blocking. Some shows can be aired in some geographic locations while being blocked in others.

For example, during the Paralympics (August 24th  – September 5th  , 2021) in Tokyo, New Zealanders were blocked from watching the events on YouTube, but Television New Zealand waived its geo-blocking right to give New Zealanders access to the games.

In January 2021, the European Commission has fined the online game company Valve and five publishers because of geo-blocking practices, which violate regulations about the single market within the European Union.

Hulu is a company that provides access to streaming videos, such as TV shows and movies. Its subscription offers are available only to households in the US. Its Live TV subscription is available only to people from the continental US. If you are outside of the US, you won’t be able to subscribe to Hulu nor access your favorite TV shows.

Many virtual private network (VPN) service providers, such as NordVPN, include the feature in their products that allow you to change your IP address to countries of your liking, so you can still enjoy shows from your home country while you are away traveling around the world.

You can access online content even if it is blocked from where you live.

If you travel around the world for business or leisure, you may want to inform yourself on your favorite news websites or stay in touch with friends and family by messaging them or sharing pictures and videos of some of the places you have visited. In some countries, many websites, including social media and other sharing platforms, are blocked.

Virtual private network (VPN) service provided by providers such as NordVPN gives you the option to change your IP address to a country where these websites are accessible. However, some of the countries that block websites may also prevent you from accessing a virtual private network.

In China, many websites are blocked from internet users. This blocking infrastructure is called the Great Firewall of China. Some of the blocking mechanisms used are:

  • IP blocking
  • Packet filtering
  • DNS injection
  • IP address denials based on keywords

Some of the websites blocked by the Great Firewall of China are Google, YouTube, and Facebook.

Russia has been experimenting with an internet infrastructure called RuNet that could block internet users in Russia from visiting websites hosted outside of Russia.

The Guardian reported in February 2021 that the Myanmar’s army had ordered Facebook to be blocked in the country on the charge that the people in Myanmar had been using Facebook to cause trouble.

Following unrest in Cuba, the government has blocked access to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and others.

According to this report, many websites are blocked in Iran, some of which are

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • Myspace
  • Flickr
  • Vimeo
  • Metacafe

Your credentials cannot be leaked even if you are using a public network.

Have you used the public Wi-Fi at coffee shops or other venues? If you have, you may regret it. When you use a public Wi-Fi, your traffic can be seen by anyone who knows how to look, whether it be the websites you have visited or credentials you have used, such as credential information (e.g. username and password) for banking or email checking. There are other risks when using a public Wi-Fi, such as your computer being injected with malware. Eric Geier, from PCWorld, showed how easily accessible tools can be used to see websites people visit and log-in credentials they use while using a public Wi-Fi.

When you use a virtual private network (VPN), such as NordVPN, your traffic past the VPN is encrypted, so snoopers cannot see what you are doing, although they may know that you are using a VPN.

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You can use a virtual private network with several types of devices, such as desktops, mobile phones, and tablets.

You probably use your mobile phone to access the web as much as or more than using your computer. If so, you are as much vulnerable when using your computer as when using your mobile phone. The good news is that you can also use a virtual private network on your mobile phone. If you use an iPhone, it is as simple as searching your VPN provider in the App Store and downloading the app. You can also use the VPN on your tablet, such as an iPad.

With one account with NordVPN, you have at most 6 devices covered, with all the major operating systems (Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and Linux) and browsers (Chrome and Firefox). Additionally, if you install NordVPN on your router, all your devices in your house will be covered.

Free subscriptions do not offer the same protection as paid subscriptions.

Although using a virtual private network (VPN) for free seems beneficial, you need to think twice before jumping into the bandwagon. When you pay to use a VPN, the provider has an interest to offer high-quality features and to keep you satisfied. However, a free version of the service may not have enough features to suit your need or may be just a scam that may cost you more than just money. That is why paying to use a VPN, such as NordVPN, may be a much better investment. Here are some of the reasons you need to avoid free VPN services:

Fewer features

Free VPN services have fewer features than paid ones. For example, ProtonVPN offers a free option that works in only 3 countries and with 1 device while its paid version works in 55 countries and with 10 devices. Hotspot Shield offers only encryption for its free VPN option while offers several other features for the paid version, such as unlimited bandwidth, no ads, more than 3,200 servers in more than 70 countries, and 24/7 tech support.

No encryption

A free VPN service may not even encrypt your online activities. ZDNet has reported that the VPN provider Hola offers a free version that does not encrypt the app users’ web traffic and asks those users to relinquish some of their devices’ computing resources, which Hola monetizes.

Logging

According to this report, many providers that offer free VPN services do log their users’ information and share that information with third parties. One way to find out how a VPN provider will use your information is to find and read its privacy policy. Note that if a provider is based overseas, you have no guarantee that it really will implement what is written in its privacy policy.

According to the same report, many of these providers that offer free VPN services have ignored their customers’ requests for assistance.

Many VPN services include protection from malware.

If you spend a long time on the web, you will eventually know how vulnerable your devices can be from malware infections. Whether it be clicking on a link from a phishing email, opening a search result, or just visiting a website, there is always a risk that your devices may be infected by malware. And if this happens, the damages may be irreparable, some of which can be identity theft, encryption of your computer files, and leak of your personal information.

Besides encrypting your web traffic, some VPN providers include a feature in your subscription package that protects your devices from malware. For example, NordVPN has the CyberSec feature that blocks websites known to host malware, protects your devices from being zombified in a botnet scheme, and hides ads on websites you visit.

NordVPN CyberSec

Last Words

By now, you know some of the reasons why you need to buy a subscription to a virtual private network (VPN). If you care about keeping some of your online activities private, then using a VPN can help you with that. What also makes a VPN useful is that you can still access and enjoy your favorite online content while being abroad, which would be very difficult if you could not change your IP address to a region where such content is available.

Also, the fact that you can use a public Wi-Fi without any worries when using a VPN is phenomenal, worries such that your bank account being emptied or your email account being accessed by hackers; you can enjoy all what a city has to offer, including its free Wi-Fi.

Another perk you get from purchasing a subscription to a VPN from some providers is malware protection. Constantly being vigilant online can take away all the fun of browsing the web, and hackers exploit as many vulnerabilities as possible to attack people’s devices, including internet users not being too cautious. For example, NordVPN offers its CyberSec feature that shields its users’ devices from hackers’ actions.

Be careful of free VPN options since you may not have the protection you need.

With all the benefits of buying access to a VPN, you still need to consider some of the problems that may arise when using one. You need to check the privacy policy of the provider you have chosen to know what kind of information from you or your device will be collected and how that information will be used. Checking to see if there have been any reported data leaks can help you judge how secure a provider’s system is. You also need to find reviews from people who have used the VPN from that provider; look at the bad, the not so bad, and the good reviews to have a somewhat balanced idea of people’s experience with the provider.

If you have questions about the provider you are interested in, you can visit its website to see if your questions have been answered. Otherwise, you can contact the provider to ask your questions.

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