VPN technology wasn’t all that popular among regular internet users a decade ago: it was utilised by big-time corporations to secure their global communications, but to the general public, it was an obscure, hi-tech term that wasn’t worthy of concern.
But as awareness about internet security threats and government sanctioned eavesdropping grew, more internet savvy users began to see the potential of Virtual Private Network software for masking / securing their day-to-day activities online.
Come 2010, VPN had become a very common (if not always understood) term among the internet community, and the market was filled with dozens upon dozens of commercial VPN services that were accessible to the average consumer. VPN technology had gone global for the most part: you could be sitting in Australia and accessing the internet from the US or Canada by using a US VPN or Canada VPN respectively!
But even in the present era of internet awareness, freshly initiated users may not have an idea of the freedom a quality VPN can offer them. Here is a breakdown of the two major applications of this technology for the average web user:
For unblocking popular geo-restricted content
One of the fundamental operating principles of this technology is that it creates a virtual ‘tunnel’ that connects two different parts of the globe, similar to how a wormhole connects two different parts of the universe (in theory!). This allows for the possibility to bypass geographic restrictions on internet content. Here are a couple of popular content services that impose geo-restrictions on their consumers which can be circumvented by means of VPN software:
No one will be a stranger to this video streaming giant with its huge content libraries filled with blockbuster movies, hit TV series, engaging documentaries and other all-time classics. Netflix started out as a US based streaming company that quickly amassed a global reputation. Recently, they created separate libraries for all major parts of the world to deal with licensing issues – in other words, if they had the license to stream a movie to their users in the US, only those in the US could watch it on their devices.
Their subscribers from another part of the world, say Australia, would have to make do with their own several limited content library. This rule was enforced by a geo-locking all the libraries. Fortunately for Netflix subscribers around the globe, VPN service for Netflix allows them to spoof their location to make it seem like they were in the right country!
Simply put, if you’re in Australia and want to watch a TV show that is present in the US library, you simply connect to the internet through a VPN Netflix service which lets you access the service as if you were based in a US city! The best VPN for Netflix will provide you with unlimited streaming bandwidth since the service is heavy on the net consumption.
More recently, newer technologies than VPN have offered the same geo-restriction bypassing abilities e.g. Unblock US Netflix, which relies on smart DNS servers as opposed to tunneling software – however these are not as secure against hacking attempts as a VPN.
Note that there is no reliable free VPN for Netflix: a software advertising itself as an unlimited free VPN Netflix is most likely a scam containing malware and adware – logically speaking, the sheer volume of traffic generated by Netflix streaming makes it impossible for a VPN service provider to not charge its users at all!
BBC iPlayer Australia:
This popular UK based service allows you to watch BBC online. Similar to Netflix though, it imposes a location restriction which only allows people inside the UK to access its content. Even if you were a UK resident traveling to Australia on holiday, you wouldn’t be allowed to watch BBC in Australia. However, a VPN that has servers in the UK would let you make it appear as if you were in the UK, so you would be able to use BBC iPlayer in Australia.
Hulu is a Netflix competitor that lets you watch all the latest US TV content (and some movies) online, but again, it is also region locked to subscribers currently residing in the US. Yet again, watching Hulu Australia is possible thanks to VPNs that let you fake your IP to a US location.
Another worthy mention is HBO Go which features blockbusters such as Games of Thrones and the brand new Westworld! We show you how to unblock HBO Go here.
For downloading over the P2P protocol
Downloading programs and content over the torrent protocol are frowned upon because it is often used as a platform to distribute pirated / stolen / illegal content. Many governments have imposed restrictions on ISPs that compel them to throttle downloads over this protocol, and in some cases, to report the user for legal prosecution.
In such a strictly policed environment, VPNs are your best friend if you have to use a torrent client for downloads. Not only will they prevent throttling by masking your IP address from the ISP, but they’ll also keep your activities from being tied to you at all! The best VPN for torrents is the one which treats the P2P protocol just as any other: no separate logging policies and no throttling, only complete anonymity.
With governments introducing laws that restrict their citizens from accessing even harmless websites (Chinese nationals can only access Google via a VPN China software, for instance) – and even those in the free world creating justifications for policing and monitoring the activities of their people online (Australia recently passed an internet meta-data maintenance legislation), VPNs are changing from luxury to necessity for the many internet users, and their importance is directly linked to their ability to disguise the user’s online presence.