Using a VPN for Privacy

Whilst UnlockWorldTV is primarily aimed at reviewing VPN providers and tutorials for accessing various streaming media around the globe, there is no denying that a VPN service is more than just a gateway to an unlimited supply of web media.

Today I want to cover privacy, specifically using a VPN for that purpose.

Firstly, I think its important to use your own definition of privacy before deciding which service to go for.

For me, 99% of the time, privacy means “protecting myself from day to day security risks” such as open WiFi networks and packet sniffers / session hijackers such as Droid Sheep or Firesheep. I might not want my ISP to know what i am “googling”, or I may want to download a torrent file and avoid ISP throttling or traffic management for instance.

For you it may be being anonymous online. But that is a whole other post! and its arguable whether it is truly possible following the Snowden leaks around the Prism debacle.

Anyway, I digress. For my purposes and I would think most peoples, privacy means “added security and unfettered internet access” and it is on this basis that this update will continue.

For basic privacy, any VPN provider will essentially fit the bill. It doesn’t matter where the server is, only that the server is there and that you have access to it.  I regularly use an open WiFi network, and I don’t like the feeling that someone in the vicinity could be trying to access my browsing session, or on insecure sites, gaining access to my details in full.  So I use a VPN. I normally use an Android smartphone in these situations so I simply choose a VPN provider with an Android app.

Before Astrill had an android app I would use the OpenVPN app, it took a little extra setup, nothing to tasking, and it worked just fine.  Since its only for privacy, I didn’t need to choose an location in a far away place and could happily use UK servers and so I did not ever see a dip in speed either. Winning.

More recently I have been a little bit more careful, and frankly, generally distrusting of the web in general. This is hardly surprising given the almost daily revelations of someone or another getting data they shouldn’t be.  Below is just a small sampling of recent news, it is far from exhaustive!!

Damn You angry Birds

Damn You iPhone

Damn You Samsung

Damn You Android

What this is highlighted for me is that my VPN habits are changing.  Rather than using it selectively to access services like Netflix or Hulu or Pandora or anything else, I’m using it more and more as an extra layer of protection “as standard”.

For the general public, i’d say you too should be doing so.  A lot of talk about VPN online and in reviews, mine included, can focus on the speed of the service, but this is normally because geolocked content is the pot of gold at the end of the entertainment rainbow i.e. someone is using a server far away to access a service that is also far away so its no surprise the speeds are lower.

Using me as an example I have a 60MB line, that i always have full speed on. However if I used a VPN in the USA I would be residing myself to 20% speed. But since I can simply use a UK server I can get more like 50% or more.  Way more than enough for any type of traffic.  Using it on my mobile is for activity such as Facebook, RSS feeds, a few select apps etc so there is no noticeable dip in speed as the requirements are minimal.

Using a VPN purely for privacy should

1) work out cheaper as you don’t need fancy features, and;

2) you shouldn’t a speed differential, especially with your day to day browsing activities.

As an example, in a recent review I did on IPVanish, the Manchester server (about 160 miles away) came in at 28Mbits per second with a 0.16 ping.  That is ample for browsing, streaming in HD or anything ales you want to do, its probably even OK to game with with such low latency!

So can we use any provider? Yes and No.

Again this depends on your own definition of privacy, for a simple added layer of security for perfectly standard and legal use, then yes, absolutely any provider is fine.  If you are interested particularly in newsgroup or torrent downloads then try and get a more specific provider for you.  Astrill has dedicated servers for torrent traffic and IPVanish allows unmanaged Torrent downloads across the board without caps for example.

The only consideration I would have, assuming privacy is your primary purpose, is how the company records your information. i.e. Does it keep logs that can identify you?

Astrill confirms they keep no logs

IPVanish  states “We do not monitor, record or store logs for any single customer’s VPN activity”

EarthVPN “neither logs VPN usage nor user activity. Neither us nor third parties are technically able to match an IP address to an account. Under no circumstances we will provide any personal or private information to third parties.”

PrivateInternetAccess does not keep any logs according to its support forum

Overplay states “we have no interest in which web sites you visit. It doesn’t affect our business and so, as long as it’s legal, feel free to visit wherever you like. We only log connection times and data usage totals, and they are only stored for a limited time”

The above are just three examples of explanations on their websites, there are more on the page, or feel free to search the inter webs!!

Lastly, Just to confirm that Earth VPN and Astrill both accept Bitcoin. (more on Bitcoin and its implications for those in the middle east or behind censorship walls later this week so please subscribe to keep up to date)

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