VPNs are regarded as an all-encompassing internet privacy tool. There is a major misconception that with a VPN, you can do whatever you want on the internet and be anonymous. That is not the case. Just like any other tool, VPNs require additional responsibility to make them effective.
We are still big advocates for using a VPN within a full suite of privacy tools. However, after coming across this thread on Reddit and this post on GitHub, we saw some of the downfalls of VPNs and the trouble they can create.
VPNs Aren’t User-Friendly
Connecting to the internet through a VPN is a fairly simple process. It is still an additional step to establishing a connection to the internet. Even if setting up a VPN is incredibly straightforward, people who are less technically adept may still have a hard time figuring out the process. We’ve voiced our opinion before about the importance of simplicity in privacy-based products.
For privacy to become a mainstream concern that people are actually able to address there need to be user-friendly and easy-to-implement tools available on a broad scale.
VPNs Slow Your Connection
Slow internet connections are incredibly annoying. People are willing to pay more for faster internet connections, and they definitely do. It is unlikely, then, that anyone would willingly pay for a VPN that noticeably slows down their internet connection. If virtual private networks or similar virtual connections are going to become a standard security measure, the slower connections need to be addressed.
Information About VPNs On The Internet Is Extremely Biased
Many of the most popular VPN services run affiliate programs. This means anyone can sign up to be an “affiliate” for VPN services and get paid for referring customers to the VPN. As a result, there are tons of “VPN Review” sites that are disguised as neutral sources of information. If the most popular VPN resources are actually trying to sell VPNs, the information they provide will almost always be skewed in favor of the products they’re promoting. If you choose a VPN due to the information you find on an affiliate site, you may be unaware of the negative characteristics of a given service.
VPNs Provide a False Sense of Security
People using a VPN may feel that because they are connected via a VPN, they are immune to security and privacy threats on the internet. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Many VPNs claim to keep your identity anonymous and keep your browsing private, but many VPNs don’t deliver on these promises. VPNs based within 5-Eyes, 9-Eyes or 14-Eyes countries may not be based in the US, but due to surveillance laws the US government could still access their data logs and other information.
Most VPNs claim that their data protection is top-notch when they are actually tracking your data. VPNs calling themselves “No Logs” VPNs often circumvent that claim by calling their data storage or collection something other than “logging” in their privacy policies.
Using a “bad” VPN or one with poor data security practices is worse than using no VPN at all. If you’re not using a VPN your network requests will flow directly to your ISP. If you’re using a VPN that tracks and stores your network activity, you’re sharing your data with a third-party that isn’t even protecting you.
VPN’s Can Hide Your IP Address, But Tracking Is More Advanced Than That
If you’re using a VPN to keep your identity hidden, they may help but they can’t completely hide your digital footprint. A VPN can make it appear as if you’re in a different location with a different IP address. The VPN cannot protect you from other tracking methods that websites use. For example, if you use your Facebook account while connected to a VPN Facebook will still know it’s you. If you use Google to search for “Restaurants in [your location]” while logged in to your Gmail, Google will know exactly where you are.
To truly avoid internet tracking you must take more steps than just using a VPN. Websites use more advanced tracking methods like browser fingerprinting which a VPN can’t avoid.
Some Websites & Streaming Services Block VPNs
If you stream video from Netflix or other streaming services, you may find that due to your VPN connection you can no longer stream content. There are some approved VPN services that will allow you to stream from providers that block VPNs. However, if you have to disconnect from your VPN to stream videos online you could be leaking your IP address to other websites.
Myth: All VPN Providers Work The Same
It’s easy to assume that “a VPN is a VPN” and they all work the same. This is not true. Each VPN service has different server locations, encryption technologies, and data security measures. There are even differences between the free and paid versions of certain VPNs. While there are some reliable comparison sites out there, you should also do your own checks on your connection to make sure you aren’t experiencing DNS or IP address leaks.
You Can Set Up Your Own “Virtual Private Network”
If you truly want a VPN but don’t trust any of the available services, you can set up your own. Use OpenVPN which is open-source software that lets anyone implement a VPN. It will create secure point-to-point or site-to-site connections in routed or bridged configurations. You can combine this with your own virtual private server to obtain the same security you would have with most VPNs for a portion of the cost.
Read More: How to Install OpenVPN
Conclusion: VPNs Are a Great Tool, But They Aren’t All-Encompassing
It’s easy to assume that with a VPN you will achieve the highest level of privacy and security with very little effort. We still believe that they are a valuable part of a complete arsenal of privacy tools. If you are worried about the websites you visit finding your IP address, then a VPN is a great tool. If you’re looking for a one stop shop for total privacy protection, a VPN is not your answer.