Should you use a VPN?
A common thing that people say is that a VPN is enough for privacy. I could download a free one from my app store and I’m as good as gone, right?
This isn’t the case.
To be private online isn’t that easy, it requires a lot of thought and time. For instance, to be private online you should not be running Windows or MacOS rather a version of GNU/Linux. And thats just your operating system, to be private online you need to switch browser, search engine, email, your habits — the list goes on and on. Using a VPN on its own doesn’t make you private.
What it actually does is direct all your internet traffic through a virtual private network, rather than your Internet Service Provider (ISP). You are doing this with an app, which owns multiple servers around the world, through which you connect to avoid restrictions where you live.
What you are also doing is placing trust in that VPN provider to not keep logs, to not sell your data and so on. You may ask why a VPN provider would do such a thing, and the answer is money. VPN servers cost lots of money to maintain. How else do you think they provide a “free” service. After all: “If the product is free, you are the product!”. You may say: “I pay for my VPN so they would never do this!”, well unless they are listed on privacytools.io they probably are.
The VPN industry is not a nice place. Companies use cut-throat tactics to get ahead of the competition, with you, the customer, being directly affected.
Is there an alternative?
Yes. It's called Tor. Instead of routing all of your traffic through a VPN, you are routing it all through a series of nodes (or servers). From that explanation it seems similar, but it's not.
The deep-web contains billions of webpages that you can’t access via clearnet. Tor also provides the only form of anonymity online. By routing all your internet traffic through servers that only know where they are going, but not where they came from, you are making yourself anonymous online. And the best part is it's all free.
Isn’t Tor the dark web?
No. Thats a common misconception. Tor is simply a gateway to the deep-web, which in itself is not a bad thing. However it can be used to get to the dark-web.
Tor was actually set up so whistle-blowers or people with content restrictions could access a non censored internet. However now Tor is used by a much larger variety of people.
If you want more info on Tor then this article will help!
Which is better?
This all depends on your threat model and also what you want. For privacy Tor is better, but I wouldn’t use any form of social media on Tor like how I would on a VPN. They both have advantages and disadvantages.
Can I use both?
I wouldn’t, unless you have complete trust in your VPN provider.
At the end of the day everyone is different. For an average user a VPN on the list bellow will bypass restrictions perfectly well. IF, however you really care about your privacy, and are prepared to change some habits, Tor is the best way to go.
Sources and acknowledgements:
Inspiration — https://matt.traudt.xyz/posts/vpn-tor-not-mRikAa4h.html
Great privacy website — https://www.privacytools.io/
VPN Comparison chart — https://thatoneprivacysite.net/#detailed-vpn-comparison