It’s not science fiction anymore. The bleak future of Minority Report and Black Mirror—where every citizen’s activity and location is monitored at all times by shadowy authorities—is already happening today.
You didn’t opt in to this. But you can opt out (opens in new tab), thanks to a VPN.
Who's listening? It's not just Big Brother
Despite the best efforts of Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers, global mass surveillance has only continued to expand in the last 10 years. Mandatory data retention legislation in the E.U. means that telecoms companies are compelled to record every customer’s browsing activity. Meanwhile, the NSA’s partnership with U.S. telecoms allows it to monitor billions of emails, text messages, and online chats that pass through U.S. territory every day.
Those messages can then be shared among all the countries in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance: U.S., Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. That means you can send an email from Africa to Asia that gets intercepted and routed to an NSA collection point in Washington, D.C., and ends up on someone’s desk at GCHQ in London.
But it’s not just law enforcement keeping tabs on us. Internet service providers all over the world can legally sell your location data, browsing history, and contact lists to the highest bidder. Why? Because when marketing companies know your daily habits, they can bombard you with targeted ads and make a fortune at your expense.
Most people don’t seem to care about the complete lack of privacy that fuels the “free” internet. But the solution (opens in new tab) is simple for those with just a little bit of inside knowledge.
Your IP address: Don't wear it on your sleeve
Harold Li, vice president at ExpressVPN (opens in new tab), reveals that one of the main ways that the government, marketers, and other listeners keep track of your activity is through your IP address.
“Third parties often use your IP address as a unique identifier to track what apps you’re using and what sites you’re browsing,” Li says. “It’s even a reasonably good indicator of your actual physical location, sometimes accurate to a radius of 3-4 miles, depending on the area.”
What makes this data so valuable is that most people connect to sites and services using their real IP address. Imagine walking outside with your physical street address printed in big letters on a T-shirt. That’s essentially what billions of internet users do every day, not realizing there is a smarter, safer alternative (opens in new tab).
Tune in, turn on, opt out
By far the easiest way to opt out of the global surveillance machine is to start using a VPN immediately. A VPN will hide your IP address (opens in new tab) from the rest of the internet, so instead of people seeing your personally identifying information, they’ll see nothing but the IP address of a secure remote server with no ties to you.
Even better, a strong VPN (opens in new tab) will also encrypt your online browsing record, making it unreadable to your internet service provider. Your ISP won’t know what websites you visit, so it won’t have any data to hand over to government agencies. And it also won’t be able to make a penny from marketers and advertisers.
It’s important, however, to choose a VPN (opens in new tab) that values your privacy. When looking for a VPN, you want a service that keeps no activity logs and no connection logs; in other words, nothing that could ever be used to identify you. Definitely steer clear of “free” proxy services, as many are simply monetizing your traffic for their own gain.
Not sure which VPN is right for you? We evaluated more than 100 VPN services and recommend ExpressVPN (opens in new tab) as TechRadar’s #1 Editor’s Choice for the best all-around combination of speed, security, and privacy. ExpressVPN (opens in new tab) also gets major props for having apps for every device, a huge array of VPN servers (in 94 countries), and responsive live chat support from real people.
For a limited time, ExpressVPN is even offering a special deal: 49% off, exclusively for TechRadar readers (opens in new tab). Getting out from under the shadow of surveillance has never made more sense.
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