With every passing year people are becoming more concerned about privacy online. In 2016 the number of individuals using a VPN or other online privacy tool is expected to once again increase. Though the options are becoming more abundant—proxies, anonymous browsers—it is clear that a VPN may still be the best online privacy tool in 2016.
Here are just a few reasons that you should consider a VPN over other privacy tools:
Free proxies are scary
Have you ever noticed that when you use a free web-based proxy to surf the Internet that sometimes banner ads will pop up on a site advertising something from another site you visited a few hours ago? Isn’t that peculiar? Not really. The reason that happens is because you aren’t as anonymous when using a free proxy as you think you are. Many of these services collect and even sell your browsing preferences, allowing third parties to serve up ads tailored to your browsing history.
What’s even worse is that many proxies are now promoting themselves as a VPN which is often dishonest. Few of them provide the same encryption a VPN provides and follow the VPN industry standards.
TOR and anonymous browsers raise flags
Thanks to the very public arrest of the founder of the Silk Road website, Ross Ulbricht, anonymous browsers have taken a bad rap. TOR, which hosts many sites on the so-called Deep Web, is indeed an anonymous way to surf the Internet. Or is it?
When you use the TOR browser to connect to the Internet it is true that the websites you visit and your other browsing activity is anonymous, but your usage of TOR is not. Unless you are using something known as a “bridge” your ISP can easily determine that you have connected to TOR even though they can’t see what you are doing. Sometimes it is even worse to have someone know that you are using TOR but not know why you are using it. It can invite suspicion.
In 2013 Eldo Kim initiated a bomb threat at Harvard via the TOR browser and what he believed was an anonymous email service called Guerilla Mail that he had set up using TOR. An originating IP address in the email header is believed to have indicated TOR usage. It was then a simple matter for FBI agents to see if anyone had accessed TOR through the local wireless network at Harvard. This led them to Kim and that was all they needed. Eldo Kim confessed to making the threat.
TOR can only disguise traffic within its own servers. In this way it is limited. Can you imagine using TOR just because you want to visit a gambling site or adult dating site only to discover that you now have the FBI’s attention because someone else on a public network used it to do something bad? Let’s be honest. TOR has some good uses, sure, but it is forever going to be linked to black market drugs, weapons, and murder-for-hire because of the Silk Road fiasco. You probably want to think about that.
VPN still passes the privacy test
It’s kind of amazing that even though a VPN is a simple privacy tool—your device already has a VPN client installed and configuration is easy—it still works exceptionally well.
Your VPN account creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and the provider’s servers. Any websites you visit are invisible to your ISP. Furthermore, your actual IP address is not revealed to any of the sites you visit. No logs are kept of your Internet activity so even if someone were to try and collect them from the VPN provider they would could up empty because there is nothing to collect. Unlike a free proxy, a paid VPN makes it money from the customer not from marketing companies.
VPNs are so popular that they do not raise the hackles of law enforcement agencies the same way that TOR and other anonymous browsers do. There are simply too many people using a VPN today, and most of them are using it simply because they want greater privacy or perhaps want to unblock regional television programming when they travel.
The paid VPN is still your best privacy option for 2016 but be sure to choose a provider that you can trust!
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