Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Using a VPN establishes an encrypted connection (sometimes referred to as a “tunnel”) between your device and a remote server run by a VPN service. All of your internet traffic is routed through this tunnel to the server, which then forwards it to the public internet as usual. Data returning to your device follows the same path: from the internet to the VPN server, then through the encrypted connection to your machine.
Anonymous Identity Through VPN
Encrypting your traffic and routing it through a VPN server makes it more difficult, but not impossible, for observers to identify you and track your online movements. Your internet service provider (ISP) has extensive knowledge of what you do online, and thanks to Congress, your ISP can sell anonymized customer data. That means the company that charges you for internet access is profiting from your data. In 2021, the FTC issued a report outlining how much your ISP knows about what you do online, and it’s a lot. If you don’t like the idea of a company you already pay profiting from your data, or if you’re concerned about ISPs storing detailed information about your activities, a VPN can help.
VPNs also make it more difficult for advertisers and others to track your online activity. Data is normally transmitted from the internet to your device via its IP address. When you use a VPN, your true IP address is hidden, and anyone watching you can only see the VPN server’s IP address. VPNs mitigate one method of identifying and tracking you online by masking your real IP address.
Unblocking Contents and Altering Location
Streaming services may offer different content to different countries at times. Until recently, residents of the United Kingdom could watch Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix, while residents of the United States had to use Paramount+. You can connect to a remote VPN server from the comfort of your own home, perhaps to watch streaming video that is unavailable in the United States.
You can use a VPN to connect to a server in another country and spoof your location. One method for determining the location of an internet-connected machine is to look at its IP address. These addresses are geographically distributed and may be quite close to your true location at times. Your true location can be concealed by concealing your true IP address behind the IP address of a VPN server.