November 24, 2020
11 min read
Of course, not everyone is out there to get you, but if you’re surfing the internet without a VPN, you’re leaving digital fingerprints on every website you visit. Be it lurking on forums, using social media, or simply searching for information, your activity can be backtracked along with your IP address, location, and other personal information.
A virtual private network (VPN) hides your IP address, masking the physical location, browsing history and online activities performed on your device. This way, it blocks your ISP and self-interested third parties from breaching your privacy and monetizing your personal information. Let’s take a look at how that works
1. What is an IP address and why hiding it is important
Internal protocol (IP) addresses are digital labels every device or a device network receives before it can access the internet. Because of that, your IP is roughly linked to your physical location, ISP, and browsing history. Every time your device sends or receives data to and from the internet, this information travels together with your IP address and everything that it factors. In turn, your unhidden IP data may pose many privacy and protection issues.
1.1 IP Address is tied to your online identity
Maybe you’re browsing forums or Reddit under a pseudonym, or perhaps you just don’t want to have your true identity displayed on social media. Either way, you should have an option to keep your real and digital lives separate.
Suppose you have your IP address on display and unprotected. In that case, no amount of carefulness or aliases will secure your online privacy. You can often find out what websites someone is visiting and even some online boards they post on just by googling their IP address.
This is called doxxing, something that hackers and online vigilantes do to acquire information for malicious intent about public and private figures. Tie that information to a person’s name or an organization and imagine how many stories can be spun when it is taken out of context.
1.2 Tailored online retail prices
Companies and service providers can use your IP information and cookies to track your purchases and tailor prices and deals for you accordingly.
Sounds like a stretch? Try connecting to VPN servers in different countries and look up some plane tickets. The chances are that prices will vary significantly depending on the server’s location that you’re connected through.
Information is stored about you in the form of cookies. Every time you visit a travel website, your cookies inform them about your past holiday and travel searches, profiles on social media, and any information that could be used to upsell products to you.
When you use a VPN, it hides your displayed IP by changing it to your VPN server’s IP address. Your ISP, online marketers and ad companies, or anyone else trying to backtrack your information requests will not be able to see where it originated from.
However, the government and some savvy websites can see that a connection is being made through a VPN server and often seek to block it. But even then, a good VPN has ways to bypass that (see section ‘A good VPN hides itself’).
2. A VPN hides your location
While your IP address can show someone your location, it’s not exactly the most accurate of information. Usually, your IP can only display information provided by your ISP, i.e. the city or place where the internet servers you’re connected to are located. However, aside from your IP address, there are other ways for third parties to track you.
Many apps, for example, do this by using your device’s physical GPS location. Sometimes, access to your smartphone’s GPS is one of the conditions for using certain apps at all. These apps then track you everywhere you go or visit.
A VPN like Surfshark also offers a GPS spoofing feature for Android to keep those pesky apps in check. When activated, GPS spoofing overrides your physical coordinate every time any app makes a request to access your location. This way, you can always browse the internet as a first-time user without any third parties trying to incentivize your actions.
3. A VPN hides and protects your personal data
Airports, coffee shops, hotels, and other places where you can enjoy free Wi-Fi are also gold mines for hackers and cyber hooligans.
The best advice is to avoid unsecured public networks or Wi-Fi hotspots unless you’re using a VPN. If you’re not protected, anyone with low moral standards and a little know-how could steal your logins, passwords, or any other sensitive information that you might be accessing at the time.
A VPN makes sure your privacy remains uncompromised by encrypting all data before it leaves your device. That way, it makes sure your personal information becomes unreadable pieces of scrambled nonsense for any shady observers. I recommend that you always use a VPN while traveling so you won’t have to worry about connecting to any public hotspot if you need to.
4. A VPN can save you from throttling by hiding your online activity
Often, your ISP will slow and throttle your internet connection if they detect that you’re downloading torrents. Similarly, many ISP providers in the US have been found to slow their user’s internet connections when they were streaming videos online. What’s worse, is that some ISPs throttled different services like Netflix and YouTube more than Amazon Prime.
This means that internet providers also make money by favoring certain streaming services over others. Since a VPN hides your online activity from your ISP, it can make sure that your internet connection is safe from throttling when streaming videos online or downloading files.
5. A good VPN hides itself
As mentioned before, good VPNs can hide their own activity. They do so by allowing you to connect to the internet through obfuscated servers.
This way, you hide the fact that you’re using a VPN, which can help you bypass VPN blockers from your government, ISP, or other institutions like schools and universities.
Censorship is a growing issue in the world, and in China and some Middle Eastern countries, it has become a violation of human rights. Reclaim your privacy, reclaim your freedom – use a VPN!
Why you need a VPN to hide your browsing history from your ISP
You may have deleted your browsing history and cleared your cookies, but your ISP probably hasn’t. ISPs see and process the DNS queries that you make every time you access the internet. This way, they gain a lot of information about your online activity and what you browse.
As of 2017, ISPs in the US have a legal right to sell their user’s browsing history as long as they ‘anonymize’ their personal data. But even that wording is extremely subjective to interpretation.Your personal information should remain your own. By encrypting all data before it leaves your device, a VPN can make sure your browsing history remains hidden even from your ISP.
Things that a VPN won’t hide
Many VPNs claim that they can protect and hide your information, but can you trust them? Well, there are a few ways you can check how legitimate your VPN’s security is. Usually, that involves doing DNS, IP, and WebRTC leak tests. These tests can provide you with a better understanding of areas that your VPN might be lacking in.
That being said, here are things that a VPN won’t hide:
- Already existing cookies. Clear them, if you want to increase your privacy!
- Your absolute identity, i.e it won’t make you anonymous.
- It won’t hide you from viruses. While some VPNs like Surfshark offer features (CleanWeb) that can save you from malware or phishing on some infected sites, a VPN won’t save you from accessing every virus-ridden website on the internet or downloading a malicious app. Always be aware when surfing the web!
Overall, a good, working VPN should properly encrypt your data, hide your IP address, location, and internet activity. This way, you can browse the internet how it was meant to be – without your personal information being used for someone else’s gain or political agendas.
Reclaim your internet privacy