Stay on target
So a lot of you are probably a little concerned (and rightfully so) about some upcoming non-shifts in internet privacy laws. And if you haven’t heard, in essence, Trump and pals decided to repeal a law that would have prevented Internet Service Providers from selling your private information. Because the US government is… well… a little authoritarian as of late, that’s left a bunch of folks wondering how they can protect themselves. And the main answer a lot of people are pushing — Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs — aren’t really the optimal solution many think.
VPNs actually have some pretty major downsides. For starters, they aren’t always… well… safe. In recent years, VPNs have been the tools of eager pirates. You might not have noticed, depending on your browsing habits, but piracy has become MUCH harder. Many torrenting sites have shut down and the ones that are left, like Piratebay, are shadows of their former selves. Part of that is because government and corporate crackdowns have pushed many to the fringes. Now, a good chunk of piracy is either from a streaming website or via private networks that pirates maintain themselves.
That shift has meant there’s a lot less public support and guidance for new pirates, making incoming newbies prime targets for scams. It’s easy to spook people into thinking they’ll need a VPN or risk an arrest (that’s true, but only kinda), and, without prior experience, many will buy subscribe to a VPN service without doing a lot of research. That’s just as dangerous, if not worse than letting your ISP gather data and auction it off. With your ISP, you at least know generally who you’re dealing with. Comcast will watch you (which is stupid and awful and they should be disgusted with themselves) and then probably sell your data to Sears or some other floundering business that’s desperate to find new ways to connect with customers. Yeah, it’s shitty, but it’s not profoundly shittier than most things. Loss of privacy is an unfortunate reality for most of us in the modern era.
Those folks running that sketchy VPN service, though, could be anyone. And they could be looking at every bit of data you send and using it to break into your accounts or steal your identity. Plus, with all the buzz about VPNs now, you can expect more and more scammers to crop up.
There are tons of other downsides to VPNs too, namely that they will almost always reduce your speed and many services like Netflix won’t let you watch movies if you’re behind one. And these are all things you should be thinking carefully about before you sign-up.
The good news is that VPNs can be fantastic if you use the right ones and know when they’re appropriate and when they aren’t. Many come with toggles so you can switch back anytime you’d like. This helps avoid the Netflix issue, but also means that some bot somewhere is probably watching you. Beyond that, it’s a matter of knowing which ones are reputable and which aren’t, combined with being a bit more vigilant in general. Not everyone has the time, and certainly not the money to do that, though, and those people aren’t going to have too many good options. This administration is flat determined to usher in a cyberpunk dystopia, which means poor people and anyone that isn’t amenable to having their rights constantly trampled isn’t going to have a good time.
Our sister site, PC Mag has some excellent guidance for picking out the right VPN service for you, and we’d strongly recommend giving their list a read if you decide this is a route you want to go. Otherwise… nothing will change really. ISPs have been collecting your information and selling it for a while now. This is the world we live in now. Have fun.