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VPN technology was originally used to allow remote workers access to corporate files and folders when working from a location away from the central office.
This meant they were able to access sensitive documents on a secure and encrypted internet connection. While this is still the case, when we talk VPNs in this article we’re referring to commercial services that offer people security and privacy when accessing the internet.
Not only does a VPN secure your browsing with an encrypted connection, it can also give you access to a freer internet by letting you choose where you are located globally. This combination of security and location swapping means VPNs have a lot of tricks up their sleeves.
They let you:
As you can see, VPNs can be used for all kinds of things these days. Some people even use a VPN for gaming.
Read next: Our honest VPN comparison
Free Wi-Fi is awesome, am I right? WRONG. Yes it’s free, but in reality you’re paying a lot more than you think.
Let’s break it down (literally, it’s SO easy to break down a public Wi-Fi network): it’s insecure, anyone can access it, and if they know a couple of hacking tricks (which are readily available online, FYI) then bam! They’re in. Which means they can see, track, and hack all the info you’re sharing on that network.
Bit of online banking? Bank details nabbed. Private messages? Used to blackmail you for money (trust us, it happens). Personal data? Ideal for stealing your identity. The list is endless.
Because a VPN encrypts your communication to its server, it doesn’t matter who’s on the public network or trying to eavesdrop: all they see is gibberish. It’s almost as if you had your own separate network. A virtual one.
You may have never considered this, but your streaming subscription services actually license different content depending on where they’re located in the world. Picture the scene: You’re 3 seasons deep into that show with the dragons and desperate to know what happens to the Queen of Everything. You’re off on vacation for 3 weeks, laptop packed, ready to unwind after a day of exploring. But wait. You can’t access your show because that content isn’t available where you are now. Woe.
Luckily, all is not lost. A VPN means you can choose to virtually appear almost anywhere in the world your provider has a server. So if you pick your home country from the server list, it will be like you never left home. Sit back and enjoy the dragons. Panic over.
Sometimes, you may find that certain websites are blocked in certain scenarios or locations. At work, school, and university this happens a lot. Now we’re not here to judge. If you think being on Facebook at school is better for your education, then you do you. Same things goes for work. Is it really fair of your boss to block your access to LinkedIn? It happens.
VPNs get you around all kinds of access blocks even if you’re in an environment that restricts access to certain websites. Your connection gets encrypted and tunnels right through any restrictions, coming out the other end of your VPN provider’s server.
Not everyone is lucky enough to live in a country that embraces freedom of information. China, for one, imposes strict sanctions and censorship on the use of websites such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. Which means anything associated with them too. So that’s Gmail, Google Maps, WhatsApp, Instagram to name just a few. Even FaceTime isn’t an option. Not the greatest when you’re travelling and need that access. VPNs can get you around these censorship blocks in the same way they can get you around access blocks.
This one’s a biggie. Your ISP is your Internet Service Provider. In a nutshell, they’re the companies who supply you with an internet connection. Think AT&T, Verizon, Sky, BT etc. Did you know they can see everything you do online? Not only can they see what you do online, they can store it too.
In fact, in the UK your entire browsing history is stored by your ISP for a year. That’s everything you read, watch, view and click on. From the US? Your ISP is able to store and sell your browsing history to the highest bidder without your consent. Advertisers, subscription services, you name it, they can buy it.
VPNs protect you from this kind of invasion of privacy. This is because your internet connection is encrypted, meaning only you can see what you’re doing. No tracking, storing, or selling. Nada. Which leads us nicely on to…
Related: Why is online privacy so important?
Never heard of price discrimination? It’s when different prices are offered to different people based on their perceived ability to pay. This happens a lot more than you think online.
A lot of price discrimination mainly happens based on your location. For example if you’re based in New York or London, you’re more likely to have a higher income than someone in Kentucky or York. Which means you’ll often get shown the higher prices for goods. This happens a lot with airlines but can be applied to almost anything. Why? Because companies want to make money and they know how to do it.
The same way VPN location-swapping gets you around content blocks, it also makes it harder for those companies to jack up their prices on you.
It’s sounding a little ominous now, huh? Okay, okay that’s only one example. How about this: Remember what we were saying about ISPs in the US being able to sell browsing history? In the hands of the right advertiser, you could be subject to price increases on the things you enjoy most.
Allow us to paint the picture: You’ve thoroughly enjoyed free streaming the current season of that show with the dragons. But what happens when the new season (in about 200 hundred years) arrives? That same free provider has started charging for it. They know you watch it, they know you love it, and they know they can make you pay for it. A VPN means your ISP can’t see what you do online. And if they can’t see it? They can’t sell it.