Whenever you connect to the internet with a VPN, you’re browsing through an encrypted tunnel that the VPN provider sets up. The benefit of this tunnel is that your IP address is scrambled—or, more precisely, changed to one shared by many VPN users. This means the websites and apps you visit cannot see your real IP address. The VPN tunnel also shields your traffic, making it impossible for third parties to eavesdrop on your digital activity.
These are powerful reasons to use a VPN. Given that so much of our lives has moved online, it’s key to maintain privacy and anonymity and protect yourself from hackers and snoops. After all, would you want someone to keep an eye out for which malls you frequent, your daily walk route, or your favorite bar?
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The same principles apply online. Marketers want to look at your data to serve you invasive advertisements. The government wants to keep a track of what you’re doing in case it determines that you’re stepping out of line. Hackers are constantly trying to infiltrate your bank account. We might have digital freedom, but our privacy is at risk. The panopticon reigns supreme.
VPNs help hide many things, helping you regain your essential rights. Let’s take a closer look.
1. Your IP address
As mentioned earlier, VPNs obfuscate your IP address by routing your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel. Without a VPN, all the websites and apps you land on can track your public IP address, making it easy to identify you and pinpoint your precise location. With a VPN, however, said websites see the IP address of the VPN proxy. It’s also not obvious that you’re using a VPN; for them you’re simply an anonymous user.
If you don’t hide your IP address, all your internet behavior can be easily traced back to you. That’s because whenever your device sends or receives data, it relays this information along with your IP address. Your internet service provider (ISP) is able to track this information as well, and governments have been known to request user data.
While a VPN can significantly raise your level of anonymity online, a VPN alone does not confer total anonymity. One way to increase your online anonymity further is by using a VPN with the Tor Browser.
2. Your search history and online activity
VPNs hide your search and browsing history from your ISP, the government, hackers, and other nosy entities. That’s due to the encrypted nature of the connection; it’s virtually uncrackable and doesn’t allow anyone to pry on the contents of your internet traffic.
VPNs cannot, however, prevent search engines like Google and Bing from monitoring your search history. If you’re logged on to Chrome, Google can still track user behavior connected to your account. Depending on your VPN server, it might assume you’re in a different location but that’s about it.
3. Your geographical location
IP addresses can be used to track your location and where you’re logging on to the internet from. While they aren’t that precise, they still give away enough location data for a decent estimate of where you might be.
VPN services have servers across the globe, making it easy to hide your location and helping you pretend that you’re accessing the internet from a different country. For example, if you’re in Canada but connect to an ExpressVPN server in Germany, you will be assigned a German IP address instead. The list of combinations is endless.
Internet users or travelers in high-censorship countries can gain access to censored content when they hide their real locations with a VPN. And for those who are on school or work Wi-Fi networks that block access to popular social media sites, a VPN hides that fact, giving them full access to the internet.
Hiding your location can have financial benefits, too. When you access e-commerce sites from a large city, there’s a chance that you might be displayed higher prices than if you were to log on from the countryside, for example. By giving you a new location, VPNs can help you save money on flights, hotels, and more.
4. Your personal data
Whenever you connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots—such as those found in airports, restaurants, and malls—without a VPN, you dramatically increase the risk of a man-in-the-middle attack. This is caused by weak Wi-Fi security and non-existent encryption, allowing hackers to swoop in and steal your personal data.
VPNs guard against this possibility. When you connect to a VPN server, you’re encrypting your connection to the internet. This means the content of your internet connection is essentially mumbo jumbo that no one can decrypt. Hence anyone trying to pry on your personal data or attempting to pilfer information is left stonewalled.