Ever since congress decided to put the internet browsing data of all of us up for grabs to the highest bidder, more people are scrambling to protect themselves from the spying eyes of our ISPs (Internet Service Providers), and many are looking at VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) as a possible solution.
The Privacy Problem
If you’re not familiar with the congressional decision, it says, in essence, that anything we do online through any ISP can be logged by that ISP and then sold. This means knowing what sites you visit, how long you stay there, what you see, and guessing what you like. It means anything that goes into your browser and anything you do online, including your home address, phone number, and whatever else you put into your computer is not to be considered private. The basic claim is that the ISPs allow you to transmit and receive information, which means it belongs to them and they can use it for profit. It’s a massive invasion of privacy, but that’s irrelevant to the government, who seems supportive of big business over the people who elected the members of said government into their cushy jobs.
How To Protect Yourself Using a VPN
The good news is that there’s solutions you can use to guard against this gross invasion, with VPNs being the strongest way to go about it. A VPN is a network that is a small, private set of servers which only uses your ISP to connect to the VPN. After that, everything you do goes through the virtual network. All your ISP sees is you connecting to the VPN, and then encrypted data, which is worthless to them, tells them nothing about what you’re doing – besides connecting to the VPN – and gives them nothing to sell.
By using a VPN whenever you’re online – or whenever you’re doing something you don’t want tracked – you safeguard against being sold out by Time Warner, Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, Frontier, Charter, Optimum, Cox, EarthLink, SuddenLink, Cable One, HughesNet, NetZero, WindStream, or whoever you pay to give you internet access.
Though the hope for many was that their ISP would declare that they would not be selling personal information, to date, not a single one has said they would protect the privacy of their customers; proving they want to bilk you for as much as they can as often as they can, and sell you out to anyone who will pay enough to know who you are, where you are, and exactly what you’re doing.
Choosing a VPN
VPNs are not all created equal. Though they can be private, they can still log your browsing habits themselves, and then turn around and profit from it as quickly as an ISP. To avoid having the exact same problem with another company that you’d have with an ISP parasite, you need a VPN that specifically doesn’t log your data. This means that they have no records of anything you do, so even if you were to do something illegal, such as download a BitTorrent or visit a website deemed “unsafe” by draconian authorities, the VPN has no record of your activity, so they can’t tell anyone about it.
This is usually called anonymous browsing, and good VPNs are very up-front about whether or not they do this. The best ones broadcast that they won’t keep your data and include it in the contract you agree to when you sign up. They tell the government and businesses that they have no information about their customers, so even if subpoenaed by the court, they can’t sell you down the river because they simply don’t have the information to give.
Anonymous browsing is what you want, but you’re likely going to need to pay for it, since free VPNs often have loopholes because yhey want to make money to cover their operating expenses. Sadly, that translates into yet another internet charge above and beyond what you already pay to the jackals that see you as a dollar sign and nothing else.
The Best VPNs
Determining which VPN is “best” for the most users is impossible, since browsing habits, personal needs, and lifestyle will all change which one works best for you. If you want spy-proof privacy, truly anonymous browsing, good connection speeds, large networks with quality support and tons of uptime, smart protection from outside invasion, international presence, and dedication to their customers all at a cost that isn’t crippling, these are the Virtual Private Network providers that can keep you safe from your own internet provider and the government that doesn’t care about your privacy.
Loads of support for many devices, with software that you can download for free, if you connect through a lot of mobile devices, or switch computers often, then Hotspot Shield is going to do you proud. You can opt for a lifetime service fee, if you so desire, which is about the same price as two years of standard service at the yearly rate. It’s quite user-friendly, but is a little limiting on the options you have to tweak your experience. Download speeds are slightly increased with Hotspot Shield in most places, which is a nice boost. Purchase: $30/per year
KeepSolid VPN Unlimited
A multi-device juggernaut with dirt cheap yearly plans, and the choice of getting your own, personal VPN server for life, KeepSolid works extremely well for individuals, but isn’t as good for families with many simultaneous connections. It will work with anything in your house or your pocket (most likely) and is a nice, cheap option for those who want to browse anonymously, but aren’t planning on torrenting. Download speeds aren’t thrilling, and some of their servers don’t support torrent downloads at all. Purchase: $30/per year
Part of Golden Frog VPN Services, Vypr is a fast little bastard based out of Switzerland, home of neutrality and protection of privacy. They have servers all over the world, so if you’re on any of the six major continents you can likely find a connection close to you. What’s even better is you will often find download speeds using Vypr actually increase over using your standard ISP, since Vypr has a knack for circumventing the chokehold on speed that your ISP is using against you. Purchase: $60/per year
IPVanish won’t dazzle you with super low prices – though they’re plenty reasonable – but will astound with their huge infrastructure. boasting more than 500 servers in almost 70 countries and are growing all the time. Wherever you are, odds are good there’s an IPVanish server near you. This is important, because you want to use your VPN when away from home, so having a server nearby can save your browsing bacon. No logs, quick service, and if the connection is too slow, they have a 7 day money-back guarantee. Purchase: $78/per year
I personally use BTGuard and I love it. It’s geared specifically for those who want to download BitTorrents, which means it protects against illegal downloads. While we don’t suggest you download anything without paying for it, the point here is that it has to have strong 256-bit AES encryption and provide unlimited download speeds, which means a reasonably fast connection at all times. They also work out of Canada, Asia, and Europe, so they’re not centered domestically. This can cause slower connections, but means they’re also outside of the purview of the US government (at least, in theory). Best of all, they support every operating system, down to Linux, which is more secure than Windows or OSX. Purchase: $90/per year
A quick-growing service with no logs and a 30-day money back guarantee, Buffered supports not only the technology of anonymous browsing, but the philosophy of it. They want you to have your privacy, give you 24-hour support to help you do it, offer an easy setup, and have loads of tutorials and information about using a VPN and protecting your privacy. Also handy if you want to unblock content censored in your country, for a truly open internet experience. Purchase: $99/per year