China or North Korea are the words that come to mind upon thinking of internet censorship. Undoubtedly, those countries practice the craziest amounts of digital censorship on planet earth.

But others are no saints here; even the supposedly free countries (like Nordic nations, the US, etc.) censor internet space, deciding what is right and wrong for their countrymen.

It’s more or less a matter of fact that every country enforces internet censorship upon its citizens!

A virtual private network, aka VPN, is your way around these digital sanctions.

Source: Comparitech

What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

In layman’s terms, a VPN is a tool that helps to go where you’re prohibited–to see what you aren’t supposed to–on the internet.

You can use Facebook or Twitter in China–if you have a VPN at your disposal.

Not all VPNs work everywhere, though.

As for China, any VPN needs to be configured before entering the country because China even blocks VPN companies!

A VPN essentially masks your IP address with its own, which helps your connection to evade the geo-specific censorship protocols.

Additionally, you and your online activity stay hidden from the snoopers.

A VPN encrypts your data, scrambles it so that it appears muddled to onlookers. It protects you from hackers and cybercriminals.

A person using a VPN to access the internet is less likely to be compromised online.

A VPN also helps to conduct secure banking transactions on public WiFi (schools, airports, etc.).

Photo by Wendelin Jacober from Pexels

Why use VPN?

Even if you are okay with geo-special censorship, you may still be needing VPN to protect yourself from cyber-criminals.

Consider VPN as your best friend if you frequently operate on public WiFi.

Besides the security issues, a VPN also helps to consume location-specific digital content which is otherwise restricted to particular places.

So, you can have your native Netflix while you are abroad by selecting from the local servers.

Similarly, international country-specific content can be accessed by switching to appropriate servers–evading the geographical restrictions.

If you’re still unsure, check out my short guide: is VPN worth it?

Are VPNs Safe?

Guaranteed safety is a luxury in the VPN world. Many VPN companies keep logs of their user’s online activities, belittling the very purpose of a VPN in the first place.

Some embed tracking codes and advertise themselves, while others sell bandwidth or resources of free users to their paid users.

The ethical foundations of some VPN companies (especially free) are shaky at best. You are better off with a cybercriminal targeting you than using such services.

But there are some genuine VPN companies too. You should avail of their services if you must.

While choosing any VPN provider–search for past breaches, terms of use, number of servers, and server locations.

I don’t generally suggest any product until I use it myself, but almost all the internet is singing songs about ExpressVPN and Surfshark.

I would have included NordVPN here, but they suffered a data breach in March 2018–so I’m not greatly affirmative of them.

All these VPNs mentioned above–either are great or have a great affiliate program.

In fact, nobody can take a 100% guarantee of the efficiency of any VPN service. It is for you to bet upon anyone after some research, of course.

Why NOT free VPNs?

If it’s free, you may be the product.

The concept of free is an urban joke–nothing comes free!

Even fresh air and pure water have price tags.

If you think developers invest their lives in coding software–do it for free–then you need to think again and better.

Free VPNs, at least some of them, make money by following malpractices:

1. Using personal data for targeted marketing.

Personal information such as location, email id, activity logs, etc., can be sold to advertisers.

It might not ring alarm bells to you as we see ads everywhere all the time, but note the fact that each ad you see affects your ultimate buying decision.

And if you want to keep your online browsing history a secret, you should refrain from using a free VPN service.

2. Selling your data to third parties.

Things become serious with this one!

Your free VPN provider can access everything stored on your device: browser history, phone numbers, credit card numbers, and whatnot.

This information can be sold to potential criminals, allowing their use as they see fit: phishing emails, ransomware attacks, etc.

3. Utilizing your system resources for the paid users.

In this case, resources like your computer’s processing power or your network’s bandwidth are used for the paid users of the same VPN company–and mind you–those resources can be used with good or evil intentions alike.

Surprisingly, some VPN providers do mention this on their websites.

Take a hard look at this, as mentioned on Hola’s website in one of their FAQs:

How Hola VPN is free?

“Your use of Hola Free VPN Proxy is free of charge in exchange for safely using some of your device’s resources (WiFi and very limited cellular data), and only when you are not using your device. You may turn this off by joining Hola VPN Premium service. Please see our TOS for further information.”

4. Using your real IP address as exit nodes for others.

Remember what a VPN does–it masks your actual IP address and shows the IP address of VPN servers instead.

Using you as an exit node for someone else essentially means you are being used to act as a VPN server for them.

That someone could be a criminal or a fraudster. Whatever malign he would be doing–your IP address will be attached to it–as if you were doing it.

Why Paid VPNs?

First, it enables the developers to support their lives in a better way.

And your subscription fee makes up for the requirements of a robust security infrastructure needed to tackle modern-day cybercriminals.

Paid VPNs are generally faster: you will experience shorter loading times. They give unlimited data to play with, and they are good at removing geo-blocks from location-specific content.

Even some paid VPNs could be keeping logs. So, you have to read the policy terms carefully before opting for anyone.

Choosing no-logs VPN is a sure-fire way to ascertain that you are not being tracked–even by your VPN provider.

Paying for your VPN makes you a worthy customer for your service provider, thereby making you eligible for priority support if anything goes awry.

Summing Up

  • Though most of the Free VPN service providers exploit their customers, all are not bad.
  • If you insist on using free VPN services, choose one with a data cap, like Tunnelbear. Remember, A free unlimited data VPN is a huge telltale sign of security loopholes.
  • Not all paid VPN companies provide services you opt them for. Reading those policy terms is the only way to fully identify the risks you’re going up against.
  • Even using the best VPN service available on this planet doesn’t make you completely anonymous from law-enforcement agencies. You can still be tracked, if necessary. No technology is foolproof.
  • Therefore, use a VPN to protect yourself. But never assume a VPN as a safe ticket to untraceable cyber crimes.