How will VPNs (opens in new tab) evolve in a world where “virtual private network” is a household word? How can they continue to uphold the basic principles of security, privacy, and an open internet?
The big industry trends are clear: awareness, consolidation, and expansion. Trust in ISPs will dip, while awareness of VPNs will soar. Despite their promises otherwise, internet service providers will be unable to resist the temptation of reselling customer browsing data.
The value of users’ online history will continue to increase—enhancing pressure on ISPs to diversify their revenue streams by selling user information to the highest bidder. This ever-expanding breach of privacy will concern everyday netizens, and they will look for solutions to reclaim control of their digital lives.
Some tech giants, like Google or Apple, may offer VPN services of their own, but consumers will be wary of entrusting their entire digital life to one entity. Many users will instead opt for independent VPN services as a check on the power of such corporations.
The VPN industry will undergo major consolidation. While thousands of free (opens in new tab) and paid (opens in new tab) VPN companies exist today, only a handful of companies will eventually rise to the top.
Unscrupulous operators, such as those who monetize their platforms by injecting ads into browsers, will be exposed as users become savvier, and industry standards become formalized.
Only VPN companies with a proven track record of providing security and reliability will make it.
In a parallel trend, established companies like antivirus providers or ISPs themselves will offer their own security products to protect users’ internet connections. Whether such offerings as “Wi-Fi security” will evolve to become full-fledged VPN products and compete with established VPN providers is an outstanding question.
Attempts at regulating VPNs
Attempts to regulate VPNs (opens in new tab) will prove fruitless. More governments will try to regulate the VPN industry—pressuring data centres or network providers, blocking payments to VPN providers, and asking VPN providers to spy on their own customers.
Unlike ISPs that were blackmailed into flawed and dangerous data retention laws, VPN companies (backed by strong public sentiment) are likely to thwart attempts by state or corporate actors to invade users’ privacy.
More countries are likely to attempt technical measures to block VPN access, expanding the ongoing cat and mouse game with VPN providers in regions of the world where censorship is the norm.
Visible, trusted, and reliable. VPN awareness will continue to expand as consumers begin to comprehend the degree to which their ISPs and other tech entities regularly infringe on their privacy.
This will set off a period of consolidation as consumers weed out the poorer VPN services, and a few companies will come out on top.
Increasing VPN adoption will mean additional attempts at regulation and government control, which will ultimately encounter resistance as the growing population of VPN users fights to protect a critical tool safeguarding their online anonymity.
Ultimately, the VPN industry will owe its rise to the public realization that there must be a path for privacy to survive in the digital age.
David Lang, ExpressVPN (opens in new tab)