The Motherboard Guide to VPNs
What should you use to hide your internet browsing?
Soon, your internet provider will be able to sell your personal information, such as what websites you browse or what apps you use to the highest bidder, thanks to a new measure approved by Senate Republicans on Thursday. In other words, what you do using your home or cellphone internet connection will become a product that the Verizons, AT&Ts or Spectrums of the world can sell to marketing agencies for a good buck unless you opt-out.
In essence, internet providers won't have to care about your privacy anymore and that kinda sucks—but you can do something about it .
Read more: The Motherboard Guide To Not Getting Hacked
The easiest way is to use a commercial Virtual Private Network or VPN. VPNs add a layer between your computer and the internet, forcing your connection to go through another server before going out onto the internet, and hide your browsing habits to your ISP. The bad news is that there are dozens if not hundreds of commercial VPNs out there, and as reporter Yael Grauer explained last year, it's near impossible to say which one is the best.
Also, it's important to remember that VPNs are not a silver bullet, but they are a good choice if you are trying to hide your internet browsing from your provider. Now, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation warns in a guide, when you're using a commercial VPN, the company that provides the service can see the data that you're hiding from your home broadband or cellphone company. So keep that in mind.
So what should you use? We don't have a definitive answer, but most cybersecurity experts and hackers I've spoken to over the last couple of years have told me that Freedome or Private Internet Access (PIA) are the easiest ones to use and have a good track record of respecting your privacy, by not keeping logs, for example. Commercial VPNs like Freedome or PIA have a cost, usually relatively cheap (between $4 and $8 a month). But if you don't want to pay, you can use the Tor Browser, but that doesn't tunnel all your internet connections—just your browsing. And you have to understand and accept the risks of using Tor. Moreover, Tor is a bit harder to use on mobile, as there aren't great apps for Android and iOS, though developers have been working on making a good Tor browser app for iPhones.
Ideally, if you have a little bit more technical skills and don't want to use a plug-n-play commercial service, you could set up an OpenVPN tunnel to your own Virtual Private Server (VPS), which you can lease on hosting providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Digital Ocean. This way, you don't have to trust the VPN company providing the service, and you have more control.
There are also tools that make it a bit easier to configure and run your own proxy or VPN-like service, such as Streisand, and Algo, a new project that's open-source, relatively easy to set up, and can cost just as little as a commercial VPN.
To sum it up, here are our picks:
- For everyday users: Freedome, Private Internet Access (PIA), or another commercial VPN.
- For more technical users: Algo.
- For people who don't want to spend money and accept some risks: Tor Browser.
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