Why Is Everyone Talking About VPN?
Yesterday, the House of Representatives approved a measure that reversed an upcoming FCC ruling that would require ISPs to ask you for permission to sell your browsing data. Everyone is now trying to figure out a way to get around this, and virtual private networks (VPNs) are the most popular way to do this. But what the hell are they?
Before we start, it’s worth talking about the politics that are being pursued here. Back in October, the FCC laid the groundwork for a new rule that required you to agree to ISPs collecting your browsing data and selling it to advertisers. Collecting and selling data is what ISPs have been doing and want to continue, but the FCC was going to make it harder for them. The FCC’s new privacy rule was supposed to take effect in December this year, but the Senate voted to repeal it last week. The House of Representatives followed suit yesterday, and there is no reason to expect the president to do otherwise.
You are probably asking yourself why or how this happened at all, because the question of whether your personal data can be sold to an ISP seems simple and straightforward. Hell, this sounds completely American because most applications, operating systems, and other services are supposed to do the same. Opponents of FCC rules suggest that we consumers should have the freedom to choose an ISP that doesn’t track or sell our data … even if they all do.
AT&T , Sprint, and T-Mobile all sold smartphones with pre-installed tracking software, Verizon secretly linked phones with tracking files , and Comcast once suggested charging additional privacy charges . Despite all this, chances are you don’t have the luxury of choosing a home Internet service provider. Every city I’ve ever lived in has a maximum of one or two ISPs. Here are the privacy policies from the largest US ISPs, and none of them are going to keep your data to themselves:
- Comcast / Xfinity
- Cox Communications
- The border
- Time Warner Cable / Spectrum
After the Senate passed the bill, tech bloggers in the US quickly came back with a solution to bypass your ISP tracking you: a VPN . VPN encrypts your traffic before it leaves your device, and that data remains encrypted while it passes through your ISP’s network. Once it reaches the VPN server, it decrypts the data and then sends it to the Internet as a whole. It is the intermediary between you and the Internet. This way, your ISP can only see a bunch of encrypted traffic that looks like random characters. To your ISP, using a VPN all the time looks like you only visit one website. Then they would not be able to sell your data, because they would have no idea what you are watching on the Internet. VPNs are subscription services that range from free to $ 10 per month.
Historically, VPNs have been the most popular in terms of security. Companies are using them because they are an easy way for remote workers to securely access their work network when they are away. The same security applies to all of us, especially when we use public Wi-Fi . I have been using a VPN while traveling to hotels or working in cafes for a very long time.
VPNs are also a popular tool for crawling geo-restricted content or government shutdown. A provider can place a VPN anywhere in the world, and wherever it is, you will appear on the Internet there. So, if you use a VPN in England, you can access the UK version of the Internet, including all the BBC content that you really wanted to watch. If you are in North Korea, you can bypass the censorship in that country . VPNs do not provide anonymity, they simply encrypt your traffic, making it difficult for an outside observer to see which websites you visit.
VPNs are all the rage today, but they’re not a magic bullet. The hotter these things are, the darker the business methods will be, and no one can stop them.
A VPN knows as much about your web traffic as your ISP. VPNs can hide this traffic from the ISP, but they can collect and sell the same data themselves. Even worse, VPNs are not regulated and there is no strong peer review system, which means it’s hard to find a reliable one. Many VPN programs are free and open source, which means that anyone with sufficient technical skills can install it and access it fairly easily. If you want to proudly show off your tinfoil hat for a second, there’s even a chance VPN companies are collecting and selling data to the government, or heck, they’re even government-run, because why not now .
The point is, earlier this year, researchers released a whitepaper that found that 18 percent of Android VCVA did not encrypt traffic at all. Why? Because they don’t need to. They can do whatever they want. Of course, once they are caught, they go out of business, delete their apps and disappear, but they can appear in a different form just as quickly. Encryption is just one piece of the puzzle. Security is important, but privacy is just as important. If your VPN provider logs all your traffic and sells it, then they are no better than your Internet provider.
We’ve already broken the system to find a reliable VPN , so I won’t repeat it here, but the short version is this: Free is almost always bad news, and do your research before signing up with a VPN provider. This privacy site has a huge list of VPNs stating which country they are located in (which also means which jurisdiction they are in), whether the VPN logs traffic, does it log IP addresses, does it accept anonymous payment methods, and more. … … From our point of view , we found that of Private the Access of Internet , SlickVPN , NordVPN, Hideman and Tunnelbear on for many years been a reliable and transparent. Remember, this data is collected not only by your home ISP, but also by your mobile operator, so you will need to use a VPN at home and on the road to get around this.
If you don’t want to trust your data to a third-party VPN, I don’t blame you, but building your own solution is not easy. To deploy your own VPN, which is useful for bypassing your own ISP’s tracking data, it must be remote. This means that you need to host it on a web server. Popular options for this include Streisand , Sovereign , OpenVPN, and AutoVPN . Streisand is the simplest of these tools, but you still need to know how to set up an Ubuntu server on Amazon, DigitalOcean, or other providers they support, and you’ll need some technical know-how to do that. Also, while the software itself is free, the web server is not. At the very least, you can be sure that your VPN is completely under your control.
Bypassing the system may seem like a serious political statement, when you can relax on a couch covered with salt and vinegar shavings with your middle finger up, but this is not only lazy, but also a bad way to influence change. As a tech site, it is obvious that we are offering a VPN solution, but this is a policy issue. Putting the consumer privacy burden right now suggests that Congress has no interest in providing us with a solution in the future.
Privacy-focused VPNs and browser extensions are a temporary workaround, but we can’t and shouldn’t keep it forever. This is a statement, but a long-term plan is still needed. We need to push for more security and better privacy practices from our ISPs and the sites we visit, because obviously the government is not going to help us out without a fight.
Here’s one small example: more sites can switch from HTTP to HTTPS, which protects your connection to the website. It also makes it difficult for your ISP to see what you are doing on any website, as they can only see what you are on YouTube, not what video you are watching. This is by no means easy. Last year, Wired detailed their process and they ran into a lot of problems. Adding the HTTPS Everywhere browser extension is great for tech savvy ones, but my mom, who also doesn’t want her ISP to track her, isn’t going to.
Finally, to make the obvious, your ISP isn’t the only one tracking you. Almost every website, from Google to Amazon to some random blog deep in the Internet, tracks and collects your browsing data. They do this through cookies or scripts, and their data profiles about you are probably much more advanced than your ISPs. Using an extension like uBlock Origin or Disconnect can help block this data collection, but if you still insist on always logging into your Google account, it’s all for nothing. All of this will happen regardless of whether you are using a VPN. Remember, a good VPN only solves one part of the problem, hiding your traffic from your ISP or from brute spies on public Wi-Fi. Lots of other places collect data about you.