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Is a VPN Worth It? [2022 Guide]

Written by, Alex Bosnjak

Updated April, 27, 2022

Have you ever questioned your online privacy? Are you concerned that third parties are tracking your activity? Do you want to change your online location or access blocked content? Are you sick of bandwidth throttling? Do you use public Wi-Fi or hotspots?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, this post about VPNs is right up your alley.

We’ll discuss how VPNs work, why you should use one, and the differences between free and paid options. That will answer the key question — is a VPN worth it?

Let’s dive right in.

How Do VPNs Work?

VPNs or virtual private networks mask and protect users’ online behaviour from prying third parties. It all happens through an encryption technology that scrambles your private data. 

Typically, when you visit a website without a VPN, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) connects you to the page. The ISP allocates a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address to your device according to your location and uses it as your identity for the websites you visit. Since your ISP manages your online traffic, it can see your behaviour, what sites you visit, and more.

So, your unique IP address is a way to track your online activity. Similarly, the websites you visit can also trace you. Cybercriminals, hackers, and governments can access your private data through your IP address.

VPNs change all of this. When you connect to the internet via a VPN, the client (your VPN app, software, or program) first creates a secure and encrypted connection with a private VPN server. That encrypts your private data and masks your IP address.

Then, the VPN server connects you to whichever website you want to visit. The VPN server acts as an intermediary, protecting you from the prying eyes of your ISP, websites, governments, and malicious hackers. A VPN makes it incredibly difficult and nearly impossible for them to track your IP address or see your online behaviour. But note that your VPN provider can still track and see your online activity.

So, are VPNs safe? VPNs are private entities, and they often have strict policies (no-log policy) that prohibit them from sharing client data with a third party. Still, you need to be careful when selecting your VPN as it manages your online identity, behaviour, and data.

There are multiple technological elements to a VPN, and they’ll help you better understand how VPNs work. Let’s go through all of them.

Authentication

Authentication is how the VPN client (your device) establishes a secure connection with the VPN server. It ensures that both sides communicate only with each other, and there’s no third party involved in exchanging information or data.

Tunnelling

Tunnelling creates a connection between the VPN client and the server. It secures all the exchanged data within data packets using encryption, making it difficult for prying eyes like ISPs, websites, governments, or hackers to obtain your sensitive information.

Encryption

VPNs use encryption technology to secure the exchanged data between the client and the server. The data inside the tunnel is scrambled to make it useless to prying third parties. Only you can decrypt the data through your unique encryption key.

Encryption allows VPNs to secure your online data exchange from ISPs and third parties.

Proxying

The VPN server works as a proxy or stand-in for your online activity. So, any website you visit will only see your VPN server’s location and IP address and not your real identifiers. The VPN service provides you with reliable web anonymity.

Why You Should Use VPNs

Safe and secure internet browsing is the main purpose of VPNs. Commercial and business entities also use them to provide their employees remote access to the company networks. This way, employees can safely and conveniently access computers, files, and data from their local networks at home or other remote locations.

Here are the main benefits of a VPN you should know about.

Using Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi or hotspots are public networks, meaning nearly anyone can access them, including cybercriminals and hackers. Even the public Wi-Fi provider can use that network for malicious activity.

Anytime you connect to a public Wi-Fi, like the ones at airports, hotels, restaurants, cafes, or parks, you leave yourself and your private information vulnerable to bad actors on that network. Everything is vulnerable, from your login credentials and banking details to business and private data. 

A VPN allows you to encrypt and protect your online identity and information on public networks.

Safe Browsing

Safe and secure internet browsing is why most people use commercial VPNs. You can browse the internet without worrying about your data or identity being leaked to third parties.

For complete anonymity, it’s always a good idea to log out of your Google account before you start surfing the internet. That reduces the identifiers your Google account may leave linking to your online activity.

Changing Location

Another great reason to use VPNs is that they allow you to change your location besides masking your IP address. This has plenty of benefits apart from making you anonymous and untraceable. For example, if you want to use an online service not available in your country, you can use a VPN to change your location and do what you want.

For example, China doesn’t allow the use of multiple streaming services and social media platforms. If you’re there, you can use a VPN to change your location and access WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, or Netflix.

Accessing Blocked Content

So, do I need a VPN? If you’re an avid Netflix fan, you do. Most users change their location via VPNs to access online streaming content that’s not available in their region (geo-blocked). This usually means accessing Netflix servers from other countries to see blocked content.

For example, if you’re using Netflix in the UK, you won’t see exclusive content from the US. Using a VPN, you can change your location from the UK to the US and access that geoblocked content. Plenty of other platforms block content, including Spotify and Soundcloud. So a VPN can come in handy.

VPNs Encrypt Data

This is among the most crucial benefits of a VPN and the main reason people and corporations use it. Data encryption allows companies to let employees access sensitive business data from anywhere easily.

Since the data is encrypted, there are no concerns about data leaks or breaches during transit. Private users use VPNs for the same purpose. They can share sensitive data without worrying about third-party breaches. The service is beneficial for adding extra security during online banking.

Better Bandwidth Than the ISP (Internet Service Provider)

Your ISP sometimes throttles or slows down your internet bandwidth on purpose. It does this for many reasons, like reducing server loads, making the most of your usage requirements, and saving bandwidth for other users.

Most commonly, ISPs throttle bandwidth with certain types of online traffic, like video streaming services (Netflix). They do this by tracking your assigned IP address. Since VPNs can mask that, your ISP has no way of tracking your online activity or throttling your bandwidth.

But is VPN safe for bandwidth? While it may not provide additional bandwidth, it can prevent your ISP from occasionally throttling your intended bandwidth, thus improving performance.

ISP Can’t Sell Someone’s Data When Using VPN

Your ISP is likely selling your online identity and data to advertisers, marketers, or big data companies. It gets paid for this data, and it helps buyers to target you better for ads.

ISPs use your online identifiers, like IP address and location, to collect and sell your data for marketing purposes. But that’s impossible when you use VPNs because they mask your IP address, change your location, and encrypt your data.

They act as a proxy so that no third party can access your online identifiers, including ISPs, websites, governments, or hackers. This way, VPNs prevent your ISP from selling your data.

smartphone with an active VPN is next to the laptop

Free vs Paid VPN

Should I get a VPN that’s paid or free? Most have free and paid plans, and some offer free trials for a limited time. Like any subscription model, there are key benefits of using the paid plan.

In most cases, paid VPNs limit their free plans’ security, performance, and overall functionality. In contrast, free VPNs often use online advertising or sell your data and generate income. In nearly all cases, paid VPNs are far better.

Let’s discuss the advantages of paid versions over exclusively free VPNs that may steal your data.

Advanced Encryption

While most free and paid VPNs encrypt your data for privacy, not all encryption is equal. Free VPNs use weaker encryption or none, especially if they want to sell your data. In contrast, paid VPNs use only the best, top-notch encryption.

Some of the most popular and advanced encryption protocols include:

  • OpenVPN
  • IKEv2
  • L2TP / IPsec

Many consider OpenVPN the gold standard for VPN encryption, but some paid VPNs may also use their own advanced encryption to protect user data. If you can find a free VPN that uses any of the mentioned protocols, you can trust it. Still, paid VPNs will always reign supreme in advanced data encryption.

No-Log Policy

Are VPNs worth it? VPNs manage your online identity, behaviour, and data, meaning they can access it. But they have strict policies prohibiting them from sharing your data with third parties.

The no-log policy comes into play here, and it’s primarily found in paid VPNs. The VPN doesn’t collect or “log” any user data through its network. It ensures complete user privacy and anonymity by not saving any information about your online activity. You won’t find this level of privacy with free VPNs, as they likely make money from selling your data.

Great Speeds

Free VPNs are always slow and cumbersome, whereas paid VPNs are quick and smooth in performance. Also, free VPNs don’t offer dedicated servers or optimisation, and they increase bandwidth load by bombarding you with ads and collecting your data.

In contrast, paid VPNs must maintain privacy, anonymity, and a great, ad-free user experience to justify their subscriptions in a competitive market. They also offer far better speeds than any free VPN.

Servers in Your Desired Location

For VPNs to change your location, they have to connect you to the local server of that location. Most free VPNs won’t allow you to choose the area you want or limit the selection to one or two countries.

That’s one problem you won’t have with paid VPNs. They allow you to choose between all available servers worldwide, and you can pick any location you want.

Automatic Kill Switches, DNS/IP Leak Protection, Ad Blockers

Why do I need a VPN? Automatic kill switches automatically disconnect your device from the internet if the VPN connection breaks. It won’t reconnect till the VPN connection restores. Also, DNS/IP leak protection prevents security flaws from leaking your identity when sending requests to your ISP’s DNS server.

Lastly, ad blockers prevent online advertisements from disrupting your experience. These features are available with paid VPNs, but you won’t find them on free versions.

Compatibility With All Devices

Many free VPNs are limited to single devices, like smartphones, tablets, or computers. They’re often not optimised for usage on all devices, even if they’re available. But paid VPNs don’t operate this way. They’re compatible with all devices and perform seamlessly on them.

You can even use your paid VPN to connect multiple devices simultaneously, whereas you cannot do this with free VPNs.

Unlimited Data

While not all free VPNs limit usage through data caps, some will restrict you so that they can push their paid plans and convince you to buy. Paid VPNs, however, don’t limit your data or usage in any way.

Is a VPN Worth It? 

Generally, there’s no better way to protect your online privacy, private/ business/ sensitive data, and location than VPNs.

We highly recommend using paid VPNs over free ones for all the reasons above. But if you can’t use them, a free VPN is the best alternative. Just find a reliable tool that won’t track you or sell your data to third parties.

Some free plans of trusted paid VPNs are good as they maintain respectable standards. But note that you may be subject to ads, weaker encryption, and slower performance.

FAQ

Why You Shouldn’t Use a VPN

There aren’t many reasons not to use a VPN. But if VPNs are illegal in your country or require special permits,  you may want to consider going through the proper channels to avoid legal consequences.

You may want to pause your VPN if you’re gaming or doing high bandwidth tasks. Still, performance and speed issues shouldn’t be a problem if you have a reliable paid VPN.

What are the pros and cons of a VPN?

VPNs, especially paid ones, have numerous benefits, including online anonymity, data security, changing locations, unlocking restricted content, and preventing ISP throttling. There aren’t many cons unless you use a free VPN, where you may be subject to constant ads, reduced performance, bandwidth, and security, and worst of all, the VPN may sell your data to generate revenue.

Is a VPN worth it for Netflix?

Yes, if you’re a Netflix fan or serial binge watcher but have content restrictions on other regions, a VPN is worth it. It can unlock geo-blocked content and expand your Netflix library.

Is a VPN worth it for streaming?

Yes, a VPN for streaming services with geo-blocked content is worth it if that’s important to you. Plus, sometimes, you simply want to stay anonymous on streaming platforms.

Is a VPN worth it for gaming?

Yes and no. If you want to maintain online anonymity while gaming, a VPN is worth it. But most gamers prefer to pause their VPN as it may sometimes reduce bandwidth or performance speed. Still, paid VPNs are quite seamless and optimised to work with games, so you shouldn’t worry about that.