5 things to consider before buying a VPN

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Are you thinking about signing up for a VPN as part of your list of resolutions for the National Consumer Protection Week? Do you understand how they work and what benefits they can provide? Have you considered how much of your life is transmitted over the internet in the form of social media, photographs, videos etc?

If this is giving you cause for concern then you are not alone, given all of the potential assaults against your privacy. One way to secure your data and to take control over how you appear online is to use a virtual private network (VPN).

What actually happens then when you use a VPN? Essentially, a VPN creates a virtual encrypted tunnel between you and a remote server operated by a VPN service. Any of your internet traffic goes through this tunnel keeping your data safe from the undesirables. Also, using a VPN gives the impression that your computer has the IP address of the VPN server, which effectively masks both your identity and your location.

So what are some the considerations to take into account when choosing a VPN?

1. Payment

Make sure that you understand how the VPN is keeping you anonymous even though payments will be carried out through non anonymous methods like credit cards etc. You should know all of this information before choosing a VPN. There has to be anonymous payment options.

2. Security

A VPN is a uniquely powerful tool that you should definitely consider for your personal security. Whether it’s a free service or even an encrypted router, encrypting your internet traffic is a priority whilst you go about your online business. What level of encryption is your VPN provider offering? With something like AES-256 encryption, all of your internet activity is buried below several layers of security - making your personal information untouchable and unviewable on any public WiFi hotspots for example.

When you are downloading - music, videos or pictures or if you are a business that regularly exchanges sensitive documents - you need a level of security that makes sure that these things don't fall into the wrong hands. Has your VPN been certified by an independent security specialist? This is always good information to have.

3. Privacy

You want to consider a VPN service that does not log any personal data (to avoid legal liability) and to ensure the online privacy of users. You should be certain that the VPN does not store any log files on their servers - i.e.all of the usage data that they receive is completely anonymous and is not connected to a user’s real IP address or location. 

The VPN should not be part of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes or Fourteen Eyes Network. This agreement exists between multiple countries whereby internet traffic IS logged. You want to be signed up to a VPN where NO internet activity is logged whatsoever. On this note, make sure that the VPN’s country of incorporation and operation falls outside of the 14 Eyes countries - a registered mailbox does not count

Also, is the provider keeping logs or using a variety of third party services for processing personal data? There are reports that NordVPN, ProtonVPN, AVG Secure VPN, Cyberghost, VyprVPN, amongst others, are using data tracking tools in their mobile apps that violate their Privacy Policy and effectively compromise the users privacy.

4. Advertising practices

Don't trust a VPN that advertises on ‘dodgy’ websites. There seems to be a huge market for third parties selling lifetime VPN subscriptions. It’s best that such middle men are avoided. After all, why would you trust your private information and banking details to third party sales websites? And why is the VPN service even partnering with third party websites to offer “sales” or “lifetime subscriptions”? Avoid middle men and third party websites and buy your subscription directly from the VPN company itself.

5. Suspiciously cheap plans

Have you seen a cheap lifetime plan for less than $100? If something is too good to be true, then it's most likely some kind of bait/trap. After all, running a fast, safe and secure network of worldwide VPN servers with good apps and support is expensive with fixed recurring costs. If a VPN is offering cheap “lifetime subscriptions” then it could be collecting user data and selling it to third parties and advertisers or redirecting your browser to third party websites (and then earning commissions on sales). Avoid.

6. And don’t forget to…

Read the Terms of Service. As with most things these days, read the small print. For example, are there any service limitations that differ from those advertised (i.e unlimited data traffic vs "fair use")? The best terms of service make all issues clear, without clouding details or writing them without using legal jargon.

Check whether or not the VPN handed out user data at any stage in the past? VPN providers have been found to have handed out data to authorities in the past.

Make sure that the VPN provides OpenVPN support across the platforms you’re using.

  • Sebastian Schaub is the CEO and founder of Hide.me