As political and social tensions rise in countries and regions around the world, more and more governments are deploying mass surveillance programs for national security.
Some governments are recording citizens’ online activities because they’re concerned about terrorism. Others monitor their citizens because they want to stop the spread of ideas and values that threaten the official position of the state.
Regardless of whatever justification governments have to monitor and record people’s online lives, the one trend that shows no signs of stopping is the use of security and privacy tools among the citizenry. Perhaps the spark for this change can be traced back to the revelations of Edward Snowden, in exposing how the U.S. National Security Agency deploys mass surveillance on American citizens.
With awareness around cybersecurity increasing, users around the world are becoming more concerned about their online privacy. And the best tool to secure your data and online identity is a Virtual Private Network (or VPN) service.
A VPN service is the most versatile product that you can sign up for. For the price of a Starbucks coffee, you can arm yourself with some of the world’s most reliable privacy tools.
In this guide, we’ll look at the pros and cons of using a VPN service in any setting, whether it be your home, office, local coffee shop, airport, public library, gas station, or work event.
We hope this guide is useful for people who use the internet on a daily basis, whether they’re traveling or staying at home.
Pros and Cons of a VPN
Advantages of a VPN
A VPN Service Protects Your Data
There’s no other service that protects your data as effectively and affordably as a VPN service. Typically you’ll only have to pay around $3 to $4 per month if you sign up for a long-term plan.
The top VPN service providers also offer discounts for new subscribers. For that modest monthly fee, you’ll get a service that can secure your data and send it through an encrypted tunnel so no one can intercept and decrypt it.
Most elite VPN services use very strong encryption standards to make sure that your data remains safe no matter what. And since data is as lucrative in modern times as the oil market, you can bet that marketing companies and third-party apps and services are only going to want to collect more data on you.
The more data they have on you, the higher the chance it’ll get leaked or a hacker may gain access to it.
A VPN will protect you by detaching the data that you generate from you and packaging that data in a way that remains safe even if it’s found.
VPN Services Hide Your Identity
You can easily have your identity stolen and not even know it. Someone could be selling fake gold watches in your name in some dark Facebook or Twitter group/account while you go to sleep at night, deriving peace from the fact that you logged out of all your social media accounts.
In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 3.1 million consumer reports concerning scam and fraud. Of those, 650,572 were related to identity theft, while 1.7 million reports involved fraud. Since identity theft can be considered a form of fraud, there’s some overlap between these two statistics.
Government agencies and marketing agencies have now also jumped into the fray to collect as much data on users as possible. A VPN will protect you from them as well.
Of course, you can protect your identity in other ways such as not using social media or avoiding posting details about your personal life online. In addition to that though, a VPN can provide an extra layer of security that all online users need at the moment.
VPN Services Hide Your Location
As more aspects of our lives move into the online world, websites and services are going to want to know our location in order to deliver us the right personalized content.
Some would argue that there’s nothing wrong with websites logging a user’s location to serve them relevant content, offers, discounts and nearby events. But, the problem is that apps and services naturally prioritize their profits over the benefit they provide to users when recording their location and tailoring their content.
All you have to do is go to a website like www.nytimes.com or www.youtube.com and notice the difference between the content and the offers you get when you change your location with the help of a VPN service. Many educational and entertainment videos on YouTube are not available in places like India, Africa, China and certain parts of the Middle East. Conversely, some other topics aren’t available to Western audiences as well.
This happens because services and apps are able to see your true location and record it. Then they can change the content you see on your screen.
With a VPN service though, you are able to see the version of the internet that you want to see—from anywhere in the world. Just connect to a server in India and you will see content and advertising that’s local to the area.
Most websites, especially news outlets and search engines, have specialized their content according to the location of their audience, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to change to a location that gets the single best version of a given site. But many of them have international versions where they’ve changed nothing. If you use a VPN to hide your location, you’ll be able to get the default content on sites like YouTube, Google, the New York Times or the Washington Post.
The hacking community thrives off of trends. Hackers identify an easy target and launch cyberattacks against the target audience as much as they can.
In practice, hackers know that people living in the west generally have more money in their bank accounts and have the means to pay online. So they target these people and try to trick them into giving up their payment details through phishing attacks, spyware attacks and ransomware attacks.
If you use a VPN service to hide your location, then you will drastically reduce the chance of getting caught up into schemes in which alleged members of foreign royalty are asking to deposit $1 million into your bank account. The classic “Nigerian prince” scam amassed more than $700,000 in revenue in 2018.
Pro Tip:Using a VPN to hide your IP address adds a much-needed extra layer of anonymity so that services, apps, marketing agencies and other third-party data aggregators can’t pin you down by connecting your activities with your location.
VPN Services Unlock Streaming Sites
Since websites and online services can see your location, they can block your access to certain sections of the internet. These are usually known as geo-restrictions.
VPN services can circumvent geo-restrictions by making it look like your traffic is coming from a region where the content that you want to view is available.
Geo-restrictions are pretty unfair to people who’ve paid for their products, but restricting online content on the basis of location is not a good solution.
Governments may want to block content for certain users so they don’t get exposed to illicit or disturbing content—you don’t want terrorist websites coming up in the search engine results page. But at the same time, governments have to make sure that their citizenry does not miss out on all the legal benefits that the internet has to offer.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, most people are using streaming services to relax and get their entertainment fix while they’re stuck at home. The only way to make sure that no geo-restrictions ruin that for you is to use a VPN.
With the right VPN, you can unblock U.S. Netflix in any corner of the world. And, if you’re in the U.S, you can unblock the U.K. catalog of titles on Netflix, which offers a whole new range of TV shows and movies you didn’t know about. The same goes for other streaming sites like Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.
VPN Services Stop Internet Throttling
Internet service providers often advertise that they offer unlimited bandwidth while it isn’t necessarily true. This is a tactic to get you to sign up for their “unlimited data” packages.
Once you have consumed a certain amount of bandwidth in any given month, your internet service provider will throttle your connection and reduce your download speed so that you experience the internet at a pace that they are comfortable with.
This is what is called internet throttling, and it’s very common across the world. And when it happens, it’s a nightmare for people who like online gaming, streaming or downloading files through torrenting applications.
One of the many benefits of VPN services is that they can cancel the effects of internet throttling very easily. Sometimes they can even increase your internet speed.
Disadvantages of VPN
There Are Lots of Fake VPNs
Unscrupulous marketers know that more people want to use a VPN to secure their online life. So they fill the market with apps that pose as VPNs, but they’re really just data-collecting tools with a nice user interface.
And since they are able to market themselves so well, a lot of people end up signing up for fake VPN products. In the end, that hurts the industry since good VPNs have to deal with the negative image that bad VPNs create.
Therefore, it is very important that you do your research properly before purchasing a VPN service. Make sure the developer has the app listed on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. If it is, confirm that the developer’s profile actually links back to their site or is verified by the app store’s administrators. Read ratings and reviews left by other users.
Note:Sometimes it’s good to trust your intuition: If something seems sketchy, it probably is.
Some VPNs Can Slow Down Your Internet Connection
By their nature, VPN services slow down users’ internet connection. Without a VPN, your data only has to travel from your computer to its final destination (i.e., the website/service you’re trying to visit).
With a VPN, it has to encrypt that data and make a detour to the VPN server that you’ve connected to. While it might slow down your connection, this extra step is very important in securing your data as it travels from one destination to the next.
Fortunately, the top VPN service providers on the market have managed to minimize this problem by offering users a large selection of fast VPN servers placed around the world. This way, they don’t downgrade your browsing experience. With a good VPN service, you won’t even notice that your internet speed is the same as it was without a VPN.
Conclusion: Is It Worth Getting a VPN?So there you have it. There are many benefits of a VPN, and those VPN benefits should be understood with the few disadvantages that they come with. But is VPN worth it in terms of your time and money?
Ultimately, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. You should always use a VPN when connected to the internet for any purpose, whether it’s streaming or gaming, working or playing.
We hope that the VPN advantages and disadvantages we outlined above have helped you better understand the pros and cons of using a VPN. If there are any VPN pros and cons we missed, then let us know in the comments section below.