In my book, I strongly advocate for using something called a VPN (or a virtual private network). Using a VPN is sometimes necessary to gain access to certain US websites (Netflix, for example) when travelling outside of the US. However, and this is key: it's also required to help you maintain your online privacy.
Let me give you an idea as to why that's important: last week, the Senate voted to allow your internet service providers (or ISPs) to sell your browsing data without your consent. That vote now requires the participation of The House of Representatives before it becomes law, but the writing is on the wall: your privacy is under attack.
In all honesty: your online privacy has been under attack for a long while now, something that folks like me in the tech sector already know. However, there's a simple, 100% legal and very affordable solution you can take -- right now -- to take back some of your privacy and stop making all of your public data so damn public: use a reputable VPN service. They cost about $5-7/month.
It works like this: using a VPN service allow you to connect to the internet through their servers, masking your IP address (think of that as a computer identification number) and the websites that you visit. It's like surfing the internet with a Harry Potter cloak over you.
Some of you might believe that because you're not doing anything illegal online, that you have nothing to hide and, therefore, don't need a VPN. I understand that: I just think it's not the best way to think about this issue. Consider: if you don't travel anywhere illegal as you go about a normal day, you'd still be very uncomfortable if you knew that you were being followed wherever you went around the city. Twenty four hours a day. Day after day.
“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
— Edward Snowden
I therefore recommend a VPN service that cares about your privacy and can demonstrate that to you as a potential customer. But how do you, as a consumer, learn how to choose a reputable VPN service? Here are a few guidelines that I'd propose, based on the research I did for my book and for the series on security I wrote last year for MacTech magazine. Choose a VPN provider that:
- doesn't keep logs on the websites that its customers visit
- isn't headquartered in the United States
- offers servers in 10+ countries
- is NOT a member of the 5, 9, or 14 eyes security agreement
- offers a connection with an encryption rating of at least "AES-256"
- offers a free trial and/or a money back guarantee after 15-30 days
- supports both Macs & PCs
There are a small group of providers that do a really good job of accomplishing these core principles. I'm a fan of the following VPN programs in this order:
NordVPN (in Panama)
Trust.Zone (in Seychelles)
Cactus VPN (in Moldova)
My Private Network (in Hong Kong)
Boleh VPN (in Seychelles)
IBVPN (in Gibraltar)
Click on ANY of the company names I've listed above to visit their websites and learn more.
There are other companies I'm still examining and vetting but, for now, these four companies are all solid which you should confirm by doing a bit of homework.
One important note for the sake of transparency: I'm an affiliate for each of these amazing companies. That means if you purchase a plan, I receive a small percentage of that sale as a "thank you tip" for recommending them. It's not nearly enough to live on and isn't why I support these companies in the first place. They're just the best, but I wanted you to know so everything we discuss is above board!