Over the last several years, a lot more people have become aware of how endangered their online privacy is than ever before.
Those who understood that their data is continuously collected and dissected in order for companies to study them have then started searching for methods of achieving online privacy.
And indeed, there are several ways that you can go to achieve it, at least to some extent.
Some are more user friendly than the others, but they all have their advantages and benefits, as well as their disadvantages and flaws.
Two of the easiest methods to achieve greater anonymity online include using a VPN and using the Tor Browser.
In this article we are checking out these two methods, comparing them, and hopefully, helping you make a choice of which one to use.
With that in mind, let's start.
What is a VPN?
VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is an online service that offers online privacy, security, and partial-anonymity.
All you need to do is pick a VPN, go to its website and sign up for an account. After that, you can download the app to your device(s) that you wish to protect, install it, and activate it.
From that point on, your traffic will be fully protected from anyone who might want to record it or exploit it.
VPNs protect you by combining several security features, including:
- Security protocols
- A server network
- Kill Switch
- DNS Leak Protection
- and more.
Since there are no two identical VPN services, security features that you will get can vary.
Some will have more than what was mentioned above, while others might even have less.
However, the defining characteristics of a VPN include encryption, security protocols, and a server network, so you can expect that every service will have those.
It's worth starting with our VPN Comparison Guide, where you can compare and contrast all the most critical features.
What do VPN security features do?
As explained, VPNs use a cocktail of security features to protect your traffic and identity. Encryption, for example, makes your traffic entirely unreadable for others, so no one can see what you type in, which sites you visit, and more.
Security protocols are there to further improve the security of your traffic by creating an impenetrable tunnel for your data to flow through. That way, no one will be able to see it and collect it, even though it is encrypted.
Lastly, server networks are there to allow you to connect to different locations across the world. Doing so hides your real IP address, and will enable you to replace it with an IP belonging to the server you have connected to.
This lets you change your online location, and in doing so, you get to appear to be from somewhere else. That way, you can bypass online censorship and geo-restrictions, gain access to other countries' online content, and more.
The downsides of using a VPN
As mentioned, using a VPN also comes with some negatives, such as the fact that you need to go premium if you want a service that offers true quality.
There are free VPNs out there, but they offer inadequate protection, and most of them like to collect your data, in order to sell it to advertisers and make some money off of you.
Since you aren't paying for their services, and maintaining a VPN service costs money, this is how they earn it.
Alternatively, they might simply bombard you with ads, or combine the two, and make their service annoying and unsafe. Not to mention that they are extremely slow and overcrowded, so it can be challenging to get much of use done regardless.
Another downside is that even premium VPNs will slow your connection down to some degree.
This is unavoidable, and a consequence of encrypting your traffic. Still, with the best VPNs out there and relatively decent internet speed, you will be able to safely download and stream content without feeling much of an impact.
What is Tor?
On the other hand, we have the Tor Browser. As the name suggests, this is an internet browser, although not like Google's Chrome or Mozilla's Firefox.
No, Tor is an anonymity browser, which operates on a private network run and maintained by volunteers.
Basically, it is similar to a VPN's network of servers; only each server is someone's individual computer.
When you try to reach a particular website, your information request travels from one computer (node) to another, until anyone trying to track your activities completely loses your trail.
Tor's anonymity is undeniable, even though it doesn't encrypt any content.
Best of all, it is entirely free, and anyone can simply download it and use it. It is also one of a handful of methods for browsing what is often known as the ‘dark' web or ‘deep' web.
Disadvantages of Tor
The way Tor operates, by sending your signal from one node to another, makes it very safe for those who wish to be anonymous, but also very slow.
You should not use it if you plan to download content or stream videos of any kind, as it is simply too slow for that.
Is Tor Safe?
This is its most significant disadvantage, other than the fact that it doesn't encrypt your content, as mentioned.
Another thing to note is that, with Tor, the only part of your traffic that will be safe is the traffic from within the browser. In other words, if you use some out-of-browser apps, they won't be protected, while a VPN will protect all of your traffic.
Tor vs VPN: Which one to use?
Now, this is the big question. Should you use Tor or a VPN?
The thing is, there is no right or wrong answer. You can go for whichever you want. Your choice mostly depends on what you plan to accomplish and what you need in the first place.
If you want to browse the web safely, and for free, and speed and performance don't concern you that much, then Tor is an excellent option for you.
However, if you want to download content safely, use torrents, stream videos, bypass geo-restrictions and censorship, protect your entire connection, and more then you should definitely go for a VPN (You can find 21 of the best VPNs here).
VPNs cost money, although not that much. Most will cost you between $4 and $12 per month, or even less if you take long-term plans, such as 6-month subscription, 1-year subscription, or longer.
VPN opens up greater options and generally lets you do more, but they cost money, while Tor is limited in terms of speed, but it is safe and free.
So, as you can see, the choice is yours in the end, mostly depending on your types of usage.
Which do you prefer, Tor or a VPN? I would love to hear your thoughts on both, so drop me a comment below.