A VPN is useful for people with laptops and phones that use public Wi-Fi because it adds a layer of security and privacy, but do you need a VPN at home? What for? Let’s take a look and see.
First of all, what is a VPN? Briefly, it is a service that enables you to access the internet through an encrypted connection so no-one can see what you are accessing. This encrypted connection is routed through a VPN server that makes it seem wherever that server is located, which can be anywhere in the world. A VPN boosts privacy and security, and also shifts your geolocation to wherever you want.
Hide and secure web activity with a VPN
There are many reasons why you might want to make your internet activities secure and private, even at home and a VPN is a great way to do this. The secure connection means that traffic between you and the internet is encrypted so that no-one can eavesdrop on your activities and listen in on communications.
Your ISP will not know what you are doing and in some parts of the world, this is very important. Even if you live somewhere like the US or Europe, you still might not like the idea of someone looking over your shoulder as you browse the web.
Someone, somewhere is always tracking you on the internet, often to collect data about you and to either sell it or to send you targeted adverts. This is annoying and an invasion of privacy. Enable a VPN and open an incognito or private browser window and you are fairly anonymous and it is very hard for advertisers and others to track you on the web.
Your ISP may track your activities using your DNS server settings, so in addition to a VPN, switch your DNS server to a private one. See Add Cloudflare 188.8.131.52 to Android phones for speed, privacy, which also works on PC/Mac if you manually change the network settings. See Clean up the web by switching to a DNS server that hides ads if you aren’t sure how to switch DNS settings
Block ads with a VPN
Adverts on web pages are sometimes overdone to the extent that the site becomes extremely irritating. There are some that, if my job didn’t require it, I would never visit because they are simply advertising hell. It is hard to see the content for the ads popping up everywhere.
Some VPN services can block adverts and clean up web pages. This not only makes them nicer to look at and a lot less irritating, they also make sites faster. (Did you know joining RAWinfopages and becoming a member cuts out nearly all ads?)
A VPN can speed up the web and remove irritations, so yes, it could be useful at home.
Shift your location with a VPN
A VPN can make you appear to be in a different part of the world and in a different country. Some VPNs go as far as letting you choose the city you are in. You can be in the US, UK, France, Italy, Australia, and dozens of other countries. This has several uses for a VPN on your home computer.
There are good reasons why you might want to hide your location or appear to be elsewhere, and some not so good ones that break the terms and conditions of websites and services. For example, some people stream Netflix, Hulu and others and access TV and movies not available in their part of the world.
Some shows are available in the US only and cannot be accessed from elsewhere in the world. A VPN can unblock the content and allow you to watch it, but that breaks the services rules and VPNs should not be used that way.
Shifting your location to another country or city affects things like Google News and you see different stories. Google aims to provide local news and so what someone sees in New York is very different to someone in London, Paris or Sydney. It can be interesting to see what is happening elsewhere and this is a valid use of VPNs. There are plenty more sites that show local content and pretending to be somewhere else can show different content on the website.
Here on RAWinfopages, products and services are covered and prices are often quoted. Getting the price of something is harder than you might expect because websites are too clever. They detect your country and show you the price in your currency. It can be impossible to get the US price or see what deals are offered to US customers if you are not in the US. A VPN lets you pretend you are in the US and so you can see the US website, prices and deals.
Browser-based VPN vs VPN app
A VPN is normally installed as a desktop application on the computer, but some are available as web browser extensions. Chrome for example, has browser extensions for NordVPN, Surfshark, PureVPN, Ivacy, and several more. What’s the difference?
A VPN application works at a low level in the operating system and intercepts all internet traffic no matter what the source. Whether you use a web browser, email program, software or anything else, all the traffic goes through the VPN and so provides all the benefits.
A VPN in a web browser only provides VPN services in that browser window and nowhere else. This means that you can browse the web securely, privately, shifting your geolocation, but your email program, Dropbox, Google Drive and other internet services, work through your normal internet connection. You are still at home.
A VPN browser extension is small and lightweight, using fewer resources than the full desktop app, but nothing outside of the browser gets any benefit. Do you want to protect everything or is protecting just the browser sufficient? Most of what we do on the internet is browser-based anyway, so it may be OK for many people, but be aware that other things bypass it.
VPN servers and locations
Two important things to look for when choosing a VPN provider is the number of servers they have and the locations. More is better.
As more people join the service, servers could see an increasing amount of internet traffic and they could slow down if too many people use them. Having a large number of servers enables the VPN provider to spread the load around, keeping the numbers using each server low, so the performance is good.
The locations of servers may also be important and having multiple servers in countries you are interested in is useful. There are usually plenty of servers in the US and Europe, but there may be few elsewhere. Having lots of servers means that you may be able to select the city you want to appear to be located in. Check the country list before joining a VPN service if you can.
VPN logging and anonymity
Did you know that Facebook used to run a VPN service and that it recorded people’s internet browsing activities for its own purposes? You might think you are safe and secure using it, but Facebook was really just collecting your web data. See Wikipedia – Onavo.
VPN services should not store logs or use your browsing data, and should protect your privacy. Before signing up, check what its policies are regarding logging. Avoid any that do not say they don’t log you.
VPN speed and data limits
The speed of a VPN service’s internet connection and the limits placed on the amount of data you can transfer should be examined carefully before signing up. This mainly affects free and cheap services and a free VPN may limit the amount of internet traffic to as little as 0.5 or 1 GB a month, or 100 MB a day.
This is severely limiting and your home computer will exceed these limits very quickly. They cannot be used for streaming music or video for example, because these use large amounts of data. A little web browsing is possible, but really you want unlimited data and high speed or bandwidth as it is often called. Unlimited doesn’t really mean unlimited of course, but within reason you can use as much as you need.
Avoid free or cheap VPNs that limit speeds and data.