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Roelof Jan Elsinga
Roelof Jan Elsinga

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My thoughts about using a VPN during everyday life

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My thoughts about using a VPN during everyday life

For the past month, I've been using a VPN for all of my internet usage, including my work laptop and mobile phone. It's been a fascinating experiment and here are some reasons why I think you should give it a try:

  1. You can browse content that's exclusive to a certain country
  2. You're anonymous
  3. You're more secure

Browsing country exclusive content

When moving between the USA and The Netherlands, I missed content from the other country. While in The Netherlands, I couldn't watch some shows on Netflix I could watch in the USA. While in the USA, I couldn't access some Dutch music on Spotify. I missed the content I was able to access just a few days earlier, only because I went to another country. This was unacceptable to me because it's still me and it's still the same devices. I want to be able to access any and all content, no matter where I am. A VPN allows me to do this. It simply lets me select a country I want to pretend I'm from and I can browse the internet as if I'm actually in that country. This allows me to bypass certain checks to get straight to the content. The internet should be an open place. Transparency is a good thing (most of the time) and being able to bypass country checks makes the internet a more open space.

Anonymity

When using a VPN, a good VPN, it will hide your actual IP address to any server you're connecting to at all times. This has the main benefit that your browser behavior can't be tracked to you personally. You're anonymous until you decide not to be, by logging into an application for example. Anonymity is good for a few reasons, the most well-known is to make it nearly impossible for advertisers to track you. Another important reason is the fact that your IP address is hidden, this means it's difficult for hackers to track your movements and finding out where you're located.

Eluding advertisers

Going hand in hand with anonymity is eluding the advertisers. When advertisers can't track your movements, they can't use your data to send you targeted ads. This doesn't mean you don't get ads, but it means that you get ads that don't apply to your browsing behavior. This is cool to me because it shows they really can't track me. I've never liked the fact that people use an aggregate of data to make assumptions about what you like. It's very ironic to me that it's part of my job, but that's more related to on-site tracking. Are you ready for a paragraph full of "radical" ideas? If so, read the next paragraph, if not, just skip it.

The little conspiracy theorist in me wrote the following paragraph

When you're tracking users across multiple websites, feeding the data warehouses, and using this to find out who your users are and what they like, you have a lot of power in your hands, which could be used for evil. What I push for instead is tracking on-site behavior only and allow people to opt-in for this, not opt-out. This way you can serve your customers better for what they came for. This is one of the reasons the GDPR laws in the European Union are great. Give the power of data back to the people that provide the data. When you're in another geographic area, you may not have these protections, which is why a VPN makes perfect sense. If you can't control if you're sending your data to websites, make sure the data they collect from you is useless, because they can't track it back to you.

Security

If you think simply hiding behind a VPN isn't enough to protect your devices, you can find a VPN that proxies your data through 2 or more servers before reaching its destination. This adds many layers between you and those you want to keep out. If this is still not enough, you can choose a VPN which allows you to route your traffic through onion networks. This will make you impossible to track but is also slower. But you get the point, there are a lot of options to make yourself anonymous and you can choose how far you want to go with this.

Before I was using a VPN, I used to route my internet access through the Tor network while abroad. Different internet laws could have the effect that you're doing something completely legal in one country but is illegal in another (for example, downloading through torrents). To avoid this altogether, I made sure I was hidden. When I went to the USA, there were rumors that the government was working on a system where they could tap into anyone's internet usage. This felt like a huge privacy breach to me and I wasn't comfortable with this. I have nothing to hide, but it doesn't feel right that somebody is spying on you, just because they can. When using a VPN it's impossible to "tap into" your data, since any and all data exchanges with the internet are encrypted. This means only the VPN provider knows who you are and theoretically what you do, but from that point on, no one else does.

Conclusion

A VPN is great, you're anonymous and secure. It's possible to access any and all location-based content, so you won't have a problem when hitting that "Unavailable in your area" message because you can pretend you're from another area and try again. You'll be able to use more of the internet and hide at the same time. Advertisers won't be able to use your browsing behavior to be able to send your advertisements. So if you get concerned some companies seem to be following you with ads, you should use a VPN and you'll instantly see them disappear.

Do you use a VPN? Which one are you using? Let's discuss them on Twitter!

Top comments (6)

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fieldmarshallvague profile image
FieldMarshallVague

It's vital to remember that a VPN only protects you against IP-tracking. There are other types of tracking. The most common one is cookie-trackers. Websites you visit store a cookie on your machine (or lets a 3rd party), with a unique ID on it. On another site, a background request to the first site (an image, for example) accesses that cookie and finds that unique ID again, identifying you.

Any partners who share this data can easily identify you this way. Which is why GDPR is great, but fairly easy to circumvent, if they are evil or if you are careless -easily done, since it's REALLY tiresome to go through ALLLLL those options every time they 'forget' you said "you can remember my choice with a 'local-storage only' cookie".

So, make sure you do not allow '3rd party cookies' (e.g. using BRAVE browser). Otherwise all those site you DO allow to set cookies may eventually be the ones holding the gates open for all the other snoopers.

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roelofjanelsinga profile image
Roelof Jan Elsinga

Very good point! I've been using Brave on my laptop for a while and it's been a nice experience.

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rpeacan profile image
Ryan Peacan

I've been experimenting with using a VPN consistently on my work computer and my phone recently. I use PrivateVPN, the purchase was originally just motivated because it works well for Netflix and Hulu. I'm not sure if it's actually that great of a VPN as far as security goes, to be honest.

Anyways, I wanted to see how realistic using it 24/7 would be, and on my phone. I'm living outside of the United States, and there are a few work apps and Google Voice that I wanted to use on my phone that require being in the US, so I set it for NYC.

Overall I didn't notice much difference overall, except for being less targeted by ads.

I did notice this would cause issues on my phone when I tried to use some location-based apps, such as a local bicycle rental app here in Mexico. Maybe I'm dumb, but I didn't think it would be affected since it should be using GPS locations for the app, but I would get odd errors and the service wouldn't work if I didn't turn the VPN off.

So yeah, overall it's been pretty smooth but I've had to do some switching back and forth on my phone unfortunately, which I don't love.

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roelofjanelsinga profile image
Roelof Jan Elsinga

That's pretty similar to my experience actually. Most things still work the same, I just seem to be from a different place. I did have some trouble updating my apps in the play store a few times, but with the Android 10 update that seems to be fixed. Overall I've been very happy with how smooth everything is going. I using NordVPN, which is rated highly, but I don't think it should make much of a difference in most situations.

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glennmen profile image
Glenn Carremans

I have been using a VPN for my work laptop and mobile phone for about 6 months, mainly because the clients office I worked at has a very strict firewall that blocked a lot of the websites I use.
I also use it 24/7, even when I am on my home WiFi. Having an extra protection layer to your communication and be able to be sure that nobody can follow the websites that you are visiting in this data hungry time gives me an extra peace of mind.

I have also switched my default DNS and my VPN DNS to 1.1.1.1 (Cloudflare DNS). They don't log any IP's.
For my VPN I use Private Internet Access, they also don't keep any traffic logs and this has been proven in court multiple times.

For a few months now I have also switched to Brave browser and DuckDuckGo as my default search engine on both devices.

I know that these steps alone won't help because I still use Google products and Facebook apps but still I think it is getting me in the right direction and minimises the amount of data that I share.

The only downside that I have experienced so far is that I sometimes get a recaptcha on certain websites. Not very often though but certainly a lot more than without a VPN.

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roelofjanelsinga profile image
Roelof Jan Elsinga

You're going through all of the steps to online freedom, I love it! You're much further ahead with this than me. I have only experienced the recaptcha when browsing the internet through the Tor network. With NordVPN I haven't experienced this so far.

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