A Virtual Private Network service is like the Swiss army knife of tools for your internet connection, I’m looking at the top 4 reasons to use a VPN at home!
While the uses for accessing via public networks such as Wi-Fi in Cafés and other such locations is becoming more widely known and accepted, the reasons of making use of a VPN at home are a little more specific and use directed. Many people are under the impression that they are in the privacy of their own home doing “just a bit of surfing” which in an ideal world would be the most obvious way to look at things. Sadly in a post Edward Snowden world we now understand that this type of idealistic thinking has a more sinister and darker side to it.
While it has always been suspected that the government and related agencies carry out surveillance, the scale on which this is happening and the basic dragnet methods used that have been confirmed are what are most shocking. So if you’re concerned about your privacy or just want to stream a bit of TV from abroad then all these uses fall under the same umbrella and can be achieved by just signing up to one VPN service, you get a multitude of solutions from just one service, it’s like a buy one get three free service. So below in no particular order I’ve rounded up what I consider the 4 best reasons to use a VPN service at home.
As explained earlier in the article the majority of everyday internet users who have little interest in how the internet works or internet related topics seem on the surface unaffected by any of the recent revelations about the widespread scale of information retention and logging of user activity. While this may be somewhat true, when you delve deeper in to the underbelly of what this really means then the lack of privacy should become a concern for every user from the technical minded geek to the granny looking to buy balls of wool from Ebay. The majority of us in the west and in other locations around the world have the ability to speak freely, we have the ability to offer opinion without fear of persecution and ultimately one of our most basic human rights is privacy.
The way in which the legal system works in the majority of the world is under the assumption of innocence until proven guilty. For any investigation to be carried out outside of the internet police forces and agencies are usually required to show some form of suspicion which will usually entail convincing a judge or court before further evidence gathering can occur. What we learnt recently is government agencies are vacuuming huge swathes of data in to vast processing centres that store and analyse such data before any cause for concern is raised and without good reason. This goes against due process which has been used for hundreds of years in developed countries.
Everything you do on the internet can easily be attributed to yourselves and a history of your use, your interests and who you converse with can be built to create a profile of your character, all easily done, without your knowledge and analysed by systems or humans who have no connection to yourself. It’s a rather scary big brother Orwellian world and not one I want to be a part of. So to remove the ability to track and record your every movement a VPN can be used to encrypt your internet connection from your very computer, tablet or mobile device to a third party server elsewhere in the world. At the other end the data is decrypted before being passed to the wider internet, the result is you add a layer of anonymity between yourself and your use, in essence you get back your privacy.
The world is a rather big place physically but with the explosion of the internet the actual feeling of it has become much smaller. We can now more than ever access content from all over the world and expand our knowledge on any topic that holds our interest. We can also access entertainment from other nations but with this ability has come the introduction of geo-restriction. Geo-restriction is the process of restricting content to a specific geographical region such as a particular country or continent. With people now more than ever travelling the world it is almost essential to want to keep up with home comforts which can include watching favourite TV shows from your home country. Usually services such as these are blocked but with the expansion of VPN services making use of a server in the country of your choice can open up that entertainment by bypassing those geo-restrictions.
One of the most popular uses of this type of bypass is by accessing the Netflix service from other countries that contains more entertainment than your home country. In the UK and Canada for example you can sign up for a Netflix account but can access a smaller portion of content than the US Netflix service. By connecting to a VPN server in the United States you can use your UK, Canadian or other country Netflix account to connect to the US Netflix site and access more content than on your standard home service.
Other uses include accessing services restricted to specific countries. For example accessing BBC iPlayer which is restricted to UK users by those who are outside of the UK. If you’re a British expat or someone who enjoys British TV shows then using a VPN will allow you to easily gain access to the iPlayer website with minimal fuss.
I was initially going to title this section “illegal” activity but this conjures up the wrong image of what is to be explained. Non-Legal activity can take many guises and depending on what country you reside in the type of activity may be highly illegal or just seem silly in comparison to the laws of other countries. Taking for example those that live in countries such as China or Iran where freedom of speech and expression is silenced online as much as possible. While the topics or ideas that you express online may be considered technically “illegal” the basis of what we understand our human rights to be may outweigh such legalities.
VPN use allows users to express their freedom of speech without fear of silence or retribution. By anonymising the source of what you post or discuss online you remove the ability for authorities to attribute this to yourself thus protecting your basic human rights.
Non-Legal activity can also relate to copyright in the form of torrent downloads in which copyright infringement is high on the list of questionable activities. Regardless of the legality of copyright it is entirely possible for a user to download a video or music file that is mistakenly believed to be in the public domain only to discover it is actually copyrighted material. Using a VPN can protect yourself from the legal ramifications in the example case of downloading a file that was mistake for legal content. Users can be automatically fined or disconnected for such an incident and with copyright companies breathing down the neck of anyone who downloads or uses P2P networks it is advisable to add that layer of protection so you can download freely without fear of scare tactic fines.
Bypass ISP restrictions or throttling
Internet providers are funny old beasts sometimes and what they allow and don’t allow is ever changing. It appears that speeds around the globe are ever increasing but while speeds increase and services become popular it seems that ISPs jump on the opportunity to curtail any such activity which they deem resource heavy to their network. P2P undoubtedly accounts for a high percentage of internet use and many ISPs throttle the speeds that are achievable when making use of certain services such as P2P. While you may have a super fast internet connection the actual speed you get on popular services can easily be slowed or restricted at peak times. If a service is popular it doesn’t reason that it should be slowed only due to it’s popularity.
A VPN allows the services you use to become obscure and with encryption it removes the ability for your ISP to understand what type of data you’re transferring. The results of this data scrambling are astonishing with users in the US reporting huge increases in speeds to services such as Netflix when making use of a VPN. With Net Neutrality being big news in the United States it seems that slowing internet services is big business and only set to continue. The US is not the only nation to be hit by such throttling tactics and in many cases it is not always made clear by your ISP what type of traffic they slow and what is being restricted. Making use of a VPN allows all your internet traffic to be passed without tampering of the speeds you receive and many users find surfing via a VPN to actually increase overall speeds in everyday use to bypassing such throttling.
So there you have it, the top 4 reasons to use a VPN at home. My personal favourite is Privacy and one that many overlook in their own home because they feel that they already have such privacy behind the closed doors of their home. If you have another great personal use for a VPN service in the home then please let me know in the comments as a discussion about such matters is always highly interesting.
Swiss army knife image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Padlock image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Remote Lady image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net