Most VPN providers offer unlimited data transfer plans. You should take advantage of that, and for good reason.
Turn On, Drop Out
Never assume that no one would be interested in what you’re doing online. This is probably the number one reason that people don’t turn on their VPNs when they should.
A good example of this can be found in the fiasco surrounding Popcorn Time, a popular—and copyright-infringing—streaming tool that got several users sued by copyright holders.
Anyone who’s ever used peer-to-peer technology should know that using a VPN when doing so is necessary. It’s really the only reliable way to make sure your real IP address isn’t connected to any file sharing activity and to ensure that you’re protected from ISP snooping.
Popcorn Time is packaged like a streaming tool, something that led its users to make sometimes disastrous decisions. While most people likely know that torrenting copyrighted material can get you in trouble, streaming is generally regarded as safe, since you’re not sharing anything.
Popcorn Time, however, was torrenting and that meant that anyone using it was subject to getting busted in the same way that anyone else using BitTorrent can get busted. Without a VPN, a Popcorn Time user’s IP address was transparent and, thus, many of them are finding themselves served with court papers.
Lesson: Just because a service or site seems safe doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your VPN on. Turn it on, no matter what you’re doing.
You Might Not Know that Something’s Illegal
VPNs are widely used for privacy protection purposes. People who have no intention of or inclination to break the law use them every day, oftentimes for business.
However, you very well might be a law breaker and not even know it.
In the US, federal laws are so numerous, dense and detailed that some researchers have determined that the Congressional Research Service can’t even count how many federal laws are actually on the books. Those books include approximately 27,000 pages of content.
In addition to that, laws can change at any given time and you might not be aware that it’s even happened. In some cases, treaties such as the TPP, which the public was prevented from viewing due to the influence of corporate money, can change laws dramatically with zero public input or even knowledge.
Copyright trolls make everything even more complicated. Copyright trolls specialize in filing frivolous copyright infringement lawsuits. Most often, the people sued will be extorted for a sum that the troll reasons they can afford, which will be less than the cost of taking the troll to court and arguing against the case.
Copyright trolls oftentimes get the identities of given users by sending subpoenas to ISPs. If you’re on a VPN, your IP address is hidden, so there’s no way for the troll to figure out your real IP address and, thus, to figure out which company provides your Internet access. No IP, no ISP, no subpoena, in other words.
Be very careful about copyright trolls. Even posting material from a newspaper or magazine—with proper references and links—on a public forum can get their attention. You could find yourself in the frustrating situation of having to pay off a troll or pay more to fight them in court, with no option to avoid parting with at least some of your money.
Choosing a VPN
A VPN is a security tool and, as such, you’ll need to know specific information about any provider before you decide whether or not to go with them.
First and foremost, you’ll want to look at what VPN protocols they provide. OpenVPN is almost universally available and is widely considered the best option for security. Add 256-bit encryption and you have serious privacy protection at the click of a button.
You’ll also want to consider your intended use for the VPN. If you’re very concerned about privacy, go with a VPN that doesn’t log and that allows you to pay anonymously. Logging is bad if you’re torrenting, so keep that in mind.
That doesn’t mean that logging is always bad, however. Particularly if you’re using the VPN for business and you don’t plan on doing any peer-to-peer downloading, VPNs that log but that have good privacy policies are smart choices. VyprVPN is a good example of a service that does log, but that has an outstanding reputation for customer service and for the integrity of their network.
Finally, get a service that you’ll use. Paying for a VPN service and only using it occasionally is not worthwhile. Most VPN services come with clients that make connecting easy. The clients usually have a system tray indicator of some sort, which allows you to turn it on, verify that it’s running and not have a client hogging up your screen space. We feature screenshots of the various clients we test so you can get an idea of what the company offers before you buy.
As one last word of advice, use your VPN on your mobile device, as well. Your mobile device is likely logged into your email and other accounts, and you need to protect your privacy on it as much as you do your desktop.