As of December 14th, Net Neutrality has been dealt a severe blow in the form of the United States removing the internet’s overarching protections that keep large businesses from running it without oversight. This move may not be restricted to just the United States and other countries could very well follow in their footsteps, which leads to further issues in the digital realm.
In a world where the U.N. has declared internet access a basic human right, why are so many companies being given unrestricted power over how they present it to customers? More importantly, what can you do to sidestep these oversights should the situation worsen?
VPNs: Privacy protection and its realities
Chances are you’ve heard of VPNs in passing at one point or another, although they may not sound entirely legitimate to a casual observer. The mindset of not requiring privacy because one does not feel they are doing anything wrong can lead to the steady erosion of freedoms in any area of one’s life, digital or otherwise.
At their core, virtual private networks act as a middleman between your internet provider and the internet at large that helps keep your web data safe. Instead of tying your internet use to specific activities or websites, anyone trying to follow your personal activity would only see your connection to your VPN, which then forwards your web traffic elsewhere. The most trustworthy VPNs don’t keep logs of their connections for any longer than is absolutely necessary to comply with local laws, either, so there are no records to request if someone wants to see what you’ve been trying to view.
For some, this is just an extra step taken to protect privacy in a world where privacy is slowly slipping out of the average person’s grasp. For others, especially those in countries where VPNs are against the law, seeking out information safely and without government intervention is less a matter of privacy and more a bridge to human rights that should be available to all.
Will a sudden lack of net neutrality lead to a call for VPNs? Maybe not immediately. After all, it’s only an issue in the United States and will almost certainly see delays and legal challenges before being implemented. On the other hand, other countries following in the footsteps of the U.S. shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s better to be prepared for an uncomfortable possibility than to be left scrambling for a solution at the last minute.
Finding a VPN
There are quite a few facets of a VPN to consider, but a true beginner likely only needs to know a few things about a VPN of choice: Cost, ease of use, logging habits and internet speeds.
Any VPN is going to be slightly slower than using your network as-is, but the privacy advantages often make it worthwhile and better VPNs won’t slow you down much, but it’s simply the nature of the technology. This can affect the service’s price and ease of use to varying degrees, so if you’re not sure whether or not a network is right for you, make sure you read the review from a few trusted sources to make sure their habits are good for the end user and not just their bottom line.
The last and most important feature for most users will be a VPN’s logging habits. As stated before, better VPNs won’t keep logs on-hand for any length of time if at all possible while also ensuring IP addresses are shared between various users so no one person can have their activity tracked. It’s no longer just for people using the internet illegitimately but rather a way to ensure internet traffic isn’t restricted or rerouted to make a telecoms company a huge stack of cash off of your pain and misery.
The uncertain future
We’ve reached a frighteningly uncomfortable period of history where the outcry of the majority seems to be drowned out by corporate advocates and power-hungry individuals looking to profit off of disasters.
Losing a step towards free access to the world’s collected information seems a dire signal of things to come, yet we’re going to be left to see how the dust will settle. Don’t wait until things shake out to start protecting your privacy. Those running the internet for you aren’t going to offer you the luxury for free.