July 17, 2023

How To Choose a VPN That’s Right for You

As a company that’s committed to protecting user privacy, one question we get asked a lot is whether or not our users should invest in additional privacy tools like a VPN. If Startpage keeps your searches private and tools like Anonymous View and our privacy extension prevent things like trackers and fingerprinting, are additional steps to protect your IP address and your data even necessary?

While we maintain that every user should make whatever privacy and tech decisions that work best for them, we also highly encourage that Startpage be just one of many tools used to protect your data and your privacy. There are so many ways that devices access the web aside from a private search engine or a web browser with privacy features enabled. That’s why a reliable VPN is another essential tool for virtually all privacy-minded tech professionals, since it has the ability to protect your data at all times on multiple devices. That said, not all VPN services are created equal, which is why we want to give you all the information you need to choose one that best fits your needs and budget. 

For those not familiar, a “virtual private network”, or VPN for short, is a service that reroutes and filters all of the data that flows in and out of your internet connection. When your devices are communicating directly with websites via an unprotected connection, personal information like your IP address is visible to them and a variety of other potential third parties. When you use a VPN, that traffic gets rerouted through a remote server so that your device isn’t communicating directly with any of those sites. It also encrypts all of that data, creating a protected “tunnel” that can help ensure that it’s unreadable by third parties and potential bad actors. 

This extra layer of protection can provide a number of benefits. The first of these is obviously security, since passing your data through an “encrypted tunnel” makes it so that not even your ISP knows what you’re doing online. In a post net-neutral world, it also means that your ISP can’t throttle your bandwidth based on what you’re doing or what you’re accessing (say, streaming a movie in ultra-HD or online gaming). In addition, this encryption can help you and your devices stay safe when using public and unsecured wi-fi connections when you’re traveling. It also hides your digital location, since sites and platforms can only see the IP address of whatever server is being used to encrypt your data. Most VPN services have servers in multiple locations and multiple countries. By choosing a VPN server in another part of the world, you can essentially “tell” a website or platform that your device is in that location. This can come in handy for people who are looking to access location-restricted content or even bypass oppressive censorship laws. It can also help you avoid geo-targeted marketing and pricing. It’s important to note that a VPN does NOT offer complete anonymity on its own. Sites can still identify who you are based on things like cookies and device fingerprinting. But they are still a vital tool when it comes to things like online privacy, security, and anonymity. In other words, the difference between having a VPN and not is like the difference between hiking with water resistant boots and hiking barefoot. And that’s not counting all the potential advantages of using VPN’s in tandem with other privacy tools like Startpage

So then, should you decide to sign up for one, how do you go about choosing the right VPN for you. For starters, it’s very important to note that not all VPN services are created equal. The fact that there are “free” VPN’s out there should be your biggest clue of that. And we use the word “free” in quotes because, as our experiences with tech companies should teach us, if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product. So then how do you go about choosing a VPN that gives you value for every dollar you’re spending? The key is to PUSH every dollar as far as you can:

So then where should you go to answer these questions? One very key place to look is on a company’s website and in their privacy policy. But if you don’t feel like sifting through pages and pages of text, a simple (and hopefully private) search of a company’s name can give you a lot of key information very quickly, since many reviewers, professionals, and other users make it a point to share the pros and cons of their own experiences for the benefit of others. 

As we said, however, everyone should choose whatever data privacy solutions that work best for them. So whether you’re a user who wants a premium service with lots of features or a more simplified and cost effective solution, just make sure you’re not compromising on the kind of privacy and security that merits signing up for a VPN in the first place.

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