Ali vs. Frazier. Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. Balboa vs. Creed.
None of these famous bouts, fictional or real, come close to the fight internet users have in store for them if they hope to retain their privacy. Gary Kovacs once famously said that privacy “shouldn’t be the price we accept for just getting on the internet.” But for millions of Americans, this is a reality.
The time has come to change, and VPNs will likely play a critical role. Here’s why.
What does a VPN do?
A VPN, or virtual private network, creates an encrypted “tunnel” between you and the remote VPN server. By routing all external internet traffic through the VPN, it protects your data from being viewed by your internet service provider (ISP). Since your computer shows the IP address of the VPN server and not your actual IP address, your identity is masked.
At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “Why do I need this? I’m not a hacker. I don’t torrent music. I’m not involved with anything that could even be construed as illegal.”
We’re glad you asked.
Why VPNs matter
In April of this year, a new bill was signed into law that repealed an FCC rule designed to block ISPs from selling your data to others without your permission. If you think those pre-approved credit card applications and new car ads are annoying now, wait until your internet service provider sells your entire search history to as many companies as are willing to purchase your data. Of course, the loss of privacy has much greater implications than an overstuffed mailbox.
Though your internet activities may not be illicit or illegal, consider first the notion of privacy itself. Privacy, once revoked, is nearly impossible to reinstate. Allowing companies to buy your internet search history may not be on par with China’s coming social rating score — which tracks its citizens’ purchases, location, social media posts, what bills they pay, who they’re friends with, and what they spend their time doing, and distills that information into an official rating on your trustworthiness score — but it’s part of the same privacy conversation.
Keeping even your most benign of internet activities private is paramount to protecting your personal information and identity. So unless you want companies to know everything about you — your complete Google search history, every site you visited, how long you stayed there — then you need a VPN to protect your privacy.
Tips for setting up a VPN
There is indeed no shortage of VPNs on the market. In fact, the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming. To make things easier, you may want to check out PC Magazine’s list of the Best VPN Service of 2017 and CNET’s list of the same name, which reviews fewer services but includes more detailed information.
Things to consider when researching VPNs:
● How much are you willing to spend?
◦ VPNs can vary significantly in price, and there are even some free versions. Just keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Before signing up for a “cheap” VPN service, take a close look at the features.
● How will you be using your VPN?
◦ Some VPN services are better suited than others for particular tasks, like gaming and streaming video. Make sure you take into account both speed and bandwidth when making your selection.
● How many devices will you be using?
◦ Another essential factor to consider is how many devices you’ll be using in your home. Most VPNs allow you to connect up to five with a single account, but depending on the number and type of devices in your home, you may need to use a router that has preinstalled VPN software. This way you can connect as many as you want using just one license, and electronics like video game consoles can easily connect.
● Do they offer mobile support?
◦ Make sure the VPN you select can support your mobile/tablet devices as well. While many VPNs provide apps, just remember this can count towards the number of licenses you’re given.
● Security settings
◦ One of the most important features to evaluate when selecting a VPN is the security and encryption they offer. At the minimum, you need 128-bit encryption, no connection logs, and anonymous DNS servers.
● User reviews
◦ Just as if you were buying a new TV or car, you should check out user reviews of any VPN you’re considering. Take note of any complaints about critical factors like bandwidth or speed.
Figuring out which VPN you should select can take time, but when it comes to protecting your privacy and the privacy of your loved ones, it’s time well spent. Your family — and your mailbox — will thank you.