VPNs are becoming more and more popular at a rapid pace, and it looks like 2017 is going to have a number of VPN-related trends to look out for. These include governments creating more privacy-related regulations and laws, content continuing to be blocked in countries around the globe, and users becoming more informed about cyber-security issues. If you’re still on the fence about VPNs, think of them as a padlock to your virtual life. VPNs aren’t just for hackers or tech-experts. These days, they are designed to be user-friendly for all types of users, providing access to blocked content, encrypted connections, and safe browsing. They are simply to use, and usually require an annual or monthly fee, depending on the provider you choose.
VPNs encrypt your connection when you browse, so you not only access blocked content, but can use unprotected and public connections safely to avoid getting spied on.
1. The Snoopers’ Charter in the UK
If you stay up to date with privacy-related laws in Europe or the US, you may have heard about the Snoopers’ Charter. With this legislation, internet service providers and telecom companies are required to keep records of users’ sensitive data. This includes browsing history, social media activity, emails, calls on Skype or other web services, online gaming activity, messages, and more. They would store these records for a whole year. If that doesn’t frighten you, you should know that saving records of your phone contacts and emails has already been required since 2014.
Of course, many are pushing for the Snoopers’ Charter, claiming that it will help prevent major crimes and terrorist attacks, but this will be at the cost of every single internet user in the country. Many are against it and are pushing to amend the act, after the European Court of Justice said that saving this data in a general and indiscriminate manner was illegal and that it should only be done in specific cases where it can prevent crimes. This means that they would prefer if only criminals’ or suspects’ activities were tracked and not every single citizen and user in the country.
The Investigatory Powers Bill, requiring ISPs to keep records of their users’ online activity, was approved in November 2016 by the House of Lords. This is great news for VPN providers, who are expecting a significant increase in their revenues thanks to the higher demand.
Users that do their online activity with a connected VPN prevent ISPs from being able to track and record their activities. If VPNs are also required to share their records or logs with the government, VPNS based outside of the UK have the upper hand and can ignore these laws. Preventing VPN usage altogether is practically impossible, so the more data retention laws pass, the more VPN popularity grows.
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2. VPNs With the New U.S. Administration
Many are wondering how the new United States administration will affect privacy and online security laws and regulations. The Trump Administration in charge of the NSA has many people worried about governmental surveillance and privacy invasion. ProtonMail, a company that provides an encrypted email service, reported a rise in new users immediately after the election, as did Signal, an encrypted chat service. Online articles, blogs, and forums show an increase in discussions about covering up your tracks online and protecting your privacy.
Professionals and consultants in the global privacy and cyber security fields are receiving more requests for training and consultations post-election. Citizens, journalists, and privacy experts are all concerned due to the uncertainty of how the Trump administration will handle this new surveillance power once they get their hands on it.
VPN use is on the rise in the U.S., as more users hope to keep their personal information and online activity private from prying eyes. In addition, various tools for encrypting chat messages and emails, mobile privacy apps, and VPNs, and articles with tips and information about online privacy are becoming ever more popular. Understanding how online privacy works is not reserved for tech and cyber experts anymore. The everyday internet and social media user these days understands the importance of privacy protection, and is becoming more informed with every passing day.
3. Web Censorship Around the World
The U.S. and the U.K. are not the only places with privacy issues. Web censorship in various countries prevents local users from accessing certain content, and VPNs resolve that. In Turkey, the government is making efforts to censor and even block social networks. China has what is called “the great firewall of China”, blocking nearly every non-Chinese social network and search engine across the country. In Russia, users are unable to access LinkedIn, the most popular business and career social network in the world. Even apps and games are banned and blocked in various countries. For example, a popular app, Clash of Clans, has been banned in Iran. Many countries, including the UAE, monitor activity and censor all content, including news and social media.
It’s not just about being able to access new content on Netflix. Web censorship in many countries means being unable to see world news, communicate with people around the globe, and be a free citizen of the World Wide Web. In these countries, using a VPN changes everything. VPN usage in China is extremely popular, providing access to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other popular sites to Chinese citizens and business men and women that require access to these sites for their work. While LinkedIn is blocked in Russia, you can still see many users there active on the business network, which means they are using a VPN to hide their activities and access blocked content.
Countries like Turkey and China are making every effort to block and prevent VPN usage, but this is impossible. As more regulations and technology adaptations are made, more users realize the importance of using a VPN. VPN providers are constantly updating their protocols, technology, and servers to ensure that their service works and is undetected around the globe.
4. Mainstreaming of VPNs
As previously mentioned, VPNs have become mainstream. Not long ago, they were used mostly by users with moderate to advanced technical skills. The idea of a VPN seemed too complicated for the “average internet user”. Now, as awareness grows regarding privacy issues, more users are learning about the importance of protecting their personal information and activities from criminals and their own governments. VPN providers already realized this several years ago, and have changed the way their interfaces work and look. Many VPN providers today, such as NordVPN, offer a straightforward, simple, and easy-to-understand interface that anyone can use.
VPNs are mainstream now, and companies that are still lagging behind, offering complicated features and interfaces, need to catch up or they will be left behind.
5. New Protocols and Technology
A Virtual Private Network creates an encrypted connection between your computer or mobile phone and your internet service provider (ISP). This blocks snoopers, whether they are criminals or governments. VPNs use what is called “protocols” to encrypt a user’s connection, and there are different types of protocols, each with a different level of security. The most popular protocols are PPTP, OpenVPN, IPsec, and L2TP. The higher the security level, the slower your connection will be, so you do need to consider that when connecting to your VPN. The most popular used protocol is OpenVPN.
As new regulations are approved by governments, and as new technologies and methods are developed to undermine users’ privacy, VPN providers continue to develop their protocols and technology to meet the challenge. It is very much like purchasing an antivirus program: new viruses are created every day, and a reliable antivirus program will adapt quickly by updating its software to handle new threats.
6. Government Regulations Regarding VPNs
As governments pass web censorship and surveillance laws, VPNs become a controversial solution and are being targeted to prevent users from ignoring these laws. In China, VPN websites have been taken down, and many countries such as China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia use technology to ban and block VPN services. In the UAE, anyone caught using a VPN can be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Even companies like Netflix are battling VPNs and succeeding. It is difficult to find a VPN that will allow you to view blocked content on Netflix.
For the moment, governments are unable to block VPNs entirely, and many users are benefiting from the added security, privacy, and access that VPNs have to offer. It is important to remember that not all VPNs have the same technology and they don’t all work everywhere. Before choosing your VPN, make sure that it works properly in your country.
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