The notion of being some random, anonymous internet user online is largely a farce. We are being tracked almost everywhere with everything we do online. The sites we visit track us, some sites we visit try to follow us all over the web to identify what we do, governments are bulk-grabbing details of our browsing activities, gobbling up our emails and our other online communications. Our ISPs are privy to everything we do online when connected to our home internet.
The unfortunate reality of all this spying and tracking of internet users is that our lives and online actions are not just being watched, but for some of us – recorded. Using the internet is akin to living out your day-to-day life under the scrutiny of a drone-mounted security camera where you can’t tell if the little red recording light is on or not. It doesn’t matter if you’re not doing anything wrong. At some point, you probably will. We all probably will, whether we know it or not, or whether we think it’s significant or not or whether we’re Googling something out of curiosity or visiting a particular web page that inadvertently flags us in some database and turns us from some random internet user into a person of interest. A person of interest whose activities will be tracked, recorded and saved, potentially indefinitely, for future reference by some unknown party with an unclear agenda.
VPNs – encrypted browsing and private internet activities
A VPN, which is short for Virtual Private Network is a tool that everyday internet users can use to increase their online privacy. VPNs act as encrypted wrappers for your internet activities. When you’re using your home internet, or any internet connection for that matter, without a VPN, all of your web browsing activities, downloads, non-secure communications and such are sent transparently via your internet connection and can be seen, transparently, by your ISP. However, when you access the internet using a VPN, those communications, sites you visit and files you download are obfuscated from view and hidden behind encryption.
You can think of a VPN versus non-VPN internet activities like using a clear straw versus a translucent straw to drink a beverage. If somebody was watching you take a drink with the clear straw, they could see the color and consistency of what you’re drinking – they could see the bubbles in the soda or the pulp in the orange juice – they could tell you are drinking something and can clearly see what it is. However, with a translucent straw, the third party can tell that you’re drinking something, only they really don’t know what it is that you’re drinking. Likewise, VPNs do not prevent your ISP from knowing you’re doing something online, but they do prevent your ISP from knowing what that something is.
Increase online privacy with a VPN
Your ISP has the potential to know just about everything about you. Way, way more than you want anybody to know you, likely. If your ISP wanted to or if they were compelled to by court order, your whole life could be recorded, one search query and one web page at a time, and those records kept for an indeterminate amount of time. Using a VPN, especially one that doesn’t log your internet activities, is a way to take back some of your privacy.
Using a VPN has privacy benefits beyond just preventing your ISP from snooping on you. When you use a VPN to browse the internet, you’re getting a new IP address as well. This new IP address will be what websites see, how they identify you, when you access websites, communicate with people or download files. Instead of websites seeing your ISP-assigned IP address, they see the VPNs IP address which is just a computer connected to the internet that doesn’t identify your real identity, region or ISP. A VPN provides an increased level of privacy and even anonymity both from your Internet Service Provider and websites you visit while connected to the internet using a VPN.
What to look for in a VPN
There are three things you should look for when picking a VPN provider to increase your online privacy.
- No logging – if a VPN is logging your internet activities, it’s a bit counterproductive from a privacy standpoint. Though, even if a VPN provider does log users’ activities, which the activity history is stored from a few days to a couple weeks based on what I’ve seen, in general, they can still provide substantial value. However, choosing a VPN provider with a “No Logging” policy is by far the best option for online privacy concerns and anonymous internet browsing.
- Multiple server locations – The point of a VPN is both to prevent your ISP from spying on you and to give you a new identity online (a new IP address that can’t be tied to you, personally). Having access to VPNs in multiple cities and countries gives you much more freedom to prevent third-party websites from tracking you online. Plus, as an added bonus, you can oftentimes use VPNs to access country-specific streaming media, like accessing UK TV programming from the US or accessing US TV programming from South America, Russia, or wherever.
- Anonymous payment options – Having the ability to pay for VPN services anonymously is exceptionally important, and a huge benefit from a privacy standpoint. The best VPN providers, in my opinion, offer anonymous payment options for services like PaySafe Cards, or Bitcoin. The VPN provider I recommend accepts prepaid gift cards from Starbucks, Walmart, Best Buy, Cracker Barrel, Toys-R-Us and more. You can purchase these with cash at gas stations or other stores and never have to give or use your real name or address. You might even have some of these gift cards laying around your home or in your purse or wallet right now.
Recommended VPN services
My recommendation for a VPN provider is Private Internet Access. They meet the above criteria for a solid VPN provider listed above:
- They have a no logging policy. Private Internet Access does not track or log your internet activities while you’re connected to your VPN account.
- They offer multiple VPN server locations. You can connect to the internet from the USA, Canada, UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, France, Germany, Romania and Hong Kong. Some countries offer multiple server locations, for instance, you can connect to the internet through multiple cities in the US, UK and Canada.
- They offer anonymous payments. You can purchase VPN services anonymously from Private Internet Access. This means that they won’t have access to your real name, real personal email address or mailing address unless you give it to them willingly. You can even pay for VPN services using a gift card you got for your birthday or Christmas: could be a no-out-of-pocket expense to setup anonymous internet browsing services.
Preventing your ISP from spying on you and being anonymous online starts with using a VPN to protect your online activities. If you want some relief from the constant spying and oversight and want a bit more freedom and anonymity on the internet, I recommend you look into setting up a VPN account today.[sc:disclosure servicetype=”privacy-protection service”]