On a recent commute, I sat down next to and had a conversation with a guy who was in town on business. He works for a VPN provider called Private Internet Access. A what provider? That’s what I said too.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. What it does, or so is my understanding of what the guy explained, is it hides your computer’s address and completely encrypts any data you download or upload. These two things combined make your online activities completely secure and private.
I’m not one to do anything illegal online and have nothing to hide, but the idea of someone spying on me has never sat well. So what the guy was saying struck a cord. By the way, I can’t remember his name, so excuse me if I just keep calling him “a guy” or “the guy.”
He talked a lot about the techy side of VPNs. I won’t try to repeat any of it as I fear I’ll get things wrong and end up confusing everything and everyone. What did make a whole lot of sense to me were his examples of who could benefit from using a VPN. Based on my everyday activities, I turned out to be a prime candidate.
What first struck a nerve with me was privacy. As I mentioned, I ride the train for a couple of hours each day. I am a heavy user of and very grateful for its free WiFi service. But, as it turns out, using a public WiFi can be quite treacherous. Anyone with a bit of knowledge can intercept and read any data you send and receive from your laptop or phone. Those IT guys I mentioned in my first post, I’m not so sure about them anymore.
I should clarify that it’s not as bad as it may sound. Anything you send or receive from a website that has the little lock in the browser bar is always secure. So any banking usernames or passwords cannot be seen. However, I still do a lot of browsing of unsecured sites that I don’t necessarily want anyone to eavesdrop on.
The other good reason for me to use a VPN turned out to be BitTorrent. I do use it a lot at home, and before you say anything, for legitimate reasons. For example, the client for World of Warcraft, one of my continuing addictions, is downloaded using BitTorrent.
What the guy told me was that internet service vendors often slow down connection speeds when they detect BitTorrent usage. It’s called throttling and I don’t like it. I pay for a service, and I don’t want them to decide when they should or should not fully deliver it. And of course, there is also the little fact the provider can see what I’m doing in the first place. Bad provider.
Last but not least, I do travel out of the country on business quite a bit. I always lament the fact that I can never watch the same TV shows I do at home whenever I’m abroad. I know, first world problems. But, it turns out a VPN can help with that as well. It almost sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
These days, any video streamed by companies like Netflix or even broadcasters like ABC or CBS is geo blocked. This blocking prevents you from accessing the content from another country. It all has to do with licensing. While I mostly understand their position, it certainly is a bit of a pain.
Don’t get me wrong, many Netflix shows are available in just about every other country, especially their exclusives. And that is great. But inevitably, there is always one that I really, really want to see that isn’t. So how does a VPN fix this?
Whenever you want to use a VPN, you first connect to a specific server. The beauty is there are many servers all over the world. Whichever one you connect to, that is the country the internet will think your computer is located in. So, when I’m outside of the US, all I have to do is to connect to an American server and every site I visit will think that’s where I am. Pretty sneaky.
VPNs are not free, but they’re also not all that expensive. The average one costs around $5 per month. There are many to choose from, and the guy suggested I go with, of course, the company he works for, Private Internet Access. He also listed several alternatives like Express VPN and Pure VPN. There are also a ton of review and whatnot sites to do research on.
Using a VPN takes a bit of getting used to. I can’t just fire up my laptop and go. There is now a connection process to go through. But, that process only takes a minute, and I consider it time well spent when I know I am now browsing with complete anonymity and no longer have to fear big brother peeking over my shoulder. Thanks for the piece of mind guy!