Verizon recently introduced an app for a virtual private network (VPN), a secure and private network that allows individuals, groups, or businesses to “send and receive data while maintaining the secrecy of a private network.”, called Safe Wifi. It is available to Verizon customers with Android and Apple iOS phones.
Businesses can create network “tunnels” into the company’s network, allowing security and private access into the internal systems from the outside. According to TechRadar, VPNs are the one of the most secure ways to browse the web privately, but not necessarily anonymously.
VPNs can prevent internet service providers (ISP) and governments from viewing search histories as well as being able to manipulate location settings, granting users access to services in other locations or masking users’ exact locations for privacy or security reasons. However, malware and other viruses already present on systems can infect VPNs if they are set up off of an infected device.
VPNs more recently have been used to hide from bad actors looking to hack into people’s services through internet hotspots and public Wi-Fi. Several sites, including TechRadar and Buffered, highly recommend using a VPN in public Wi-Fi spots, such as in coffee shops, because these networks usually lack encryption. Encryption hides internet data and browsing from groups or individuals looking to gather information or steal personal data.
There are hundreds of VPNs that provide different uses. Some VPNs can avoid internet throttling, which is when ISPs slow down internet service to those who use over a certain amount of data. Even if customers have unlimited data plans, ISPs may throttle or slow down their internet speeds if they use a certain amount of data (AT&T says that after 22 gigabytes they will slow speeds, for example). Some providers may also throttle data on streaming videos, preventing higher internet speeds and limiting picture quality in some instances.
NordVPN claims that users have seen streaming speeds triple since they can bypass Verizon’s throttling, which makes the case that ISPs provide these services somewhat puzzling.
In this most recent case, Verizon is offering Safe Wifi for $4 per account and covers up to ten devices on an account. According to TechCrunch, Safe Wifi boasts an Ad Tracker Blocker, which will block ads from downloaded apps.
While this and many other VPNs sound great, there is a catch, especially with tech companies and ISPs, like Verizon. As covered in a previous Consumers’ Research article here, ISPs and other tech companies providing VPNs can also sell user data collected from the VPN. Verizon, in this case, could sell a Safe Wifi customer’s data. There is debate as to whether or not non-ISP providers, such as NordVPN, can do the same. While these companies can track user data, some claim that they do not, but it is hard to prove either way. So far, VPN providers have not had any data privacy issues like that of Facebook and other tech giants.
PCMag, provides a detailed top ten VPN list, giving ratings, prices, and features of each VPN. Across several different web ratings, NordVPN was consistently in the top 5, in particular, because of its affordability, server size, and nearly every device can use it. But consumers should look to see which VPN service fits their needs best. TunnelBear, for example, is noted as being easier to use, for those less familiar with VPNs.
VPNs are becoming increasingly popular, especially with the news of Facebook’s data scandal more recently, and with the passing of data protection laws in the European Union and California. The U.S. may soon see data protection laws on a federal level but having a VPN can keep consumers protected for now.