VPN opinions and recommendations

when is using a VPN a good idea? when on public wifi? all the time?
which VPN providers can we trust?

these questions have been on my mind lately. been looking around and doing my own research but i’d appreciating hearing opinions and thoughts from the lines community.

thanks!

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I’ve been using ExpressVPN for a couple of months… got a one year subscription for US$99 so I can watch Australian TV from the UK, and I guess so I can also access the Netflix libraries of other countries, as well as trying to get at least a little bit away from the long arms of the UK government and their data collection.

I’m happy with it, although it’s my first paid VPN, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. I like the smart location feature, which allows you to connect to a nearby location, and I haven’t really noticed a drop in speed when using that. Accessing Australian content is a bit slower, but not awful. I tend to just leave it on all the time. They have apps for iOS and OSX, so it’s super easy to use the service across all of your devices, which is also good.

I’ve been a bit obsessed with tech privacy recently – reading articles, listening to podcasts, switching to Signal and ProtonMail – so this came as part of that. I’ll probably continue my subscription, unless something else which seems more practical comes out. I know the people at ProtonMail have a beta VPN at the moment, which is only available to paid subscribers, so I’m also keeping an eye on that.

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It bothers me that I don’t really have any heuristics for this. It’s basically a smell test. Maybe referrals like this help some folks, but I’m paranoid enough to end up despairing about it all. There’s also an argument to be made that any tech fix for many privacy/surveillance rights issues is by definition a band-aid, and that we really need better legal protection.

But I sincerely don’t intend to derail. I am more just asking, what attributes make a VPN company trustworthy? How do I know that a VPN won’t go through a change of heart for reasons beyond my control, and start selling data it used to keep secure? How do I know that a VPN service is technically competent and capable of living up to their claims?

For someone accustomed to running server, server-based software, and securing such things, what advantages does a third party VPN service bring to me that I wouldn’t be able to achieve easily on my own?

I think the general question is hard to answer without answering why you want to use a VPN in the first place. Is it to obscure your location? To bypass government filtering? To access geo locked services? To protect your browsing patterns on untristed networks? They all have varying requirements and criteria in selecting a provider.

This is true, but it raises the question of why this should be the case, and what it will take to have comprehensive privacy protection. (some form of privacy is the one attribute all of those scenarios had in common)

VPNs are primarily useful as a means of protecting your traffic from being sniffed by someone else at the coffee shop, and possibly for geoshifting – if you want to use a service that requires your IP address to be in a particular place. They are not useful for anonymity.

See https://arstechnica.com/security/2016/06/aiming-for-anonymity-ars-assesses-the-state-of-vpns-in-2016/

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I’ll second edbkt on this one. I’ve tried a couple of VPNs because I used to live in China and everything is blocked there, and Express VPN was reliable for me. It’s not that expensive compared to some, and worked well as long as you had a decent internet connection. I’m not using it now being back in the states but have definitely been considering getting it again.

My curiosity about VPNs stems from the recent congressional repeal of FCC privacy protections (ISPs are now free and clear to sell my browsing data to anyone without my permission). Been reading a few articles and browsing That One Privacy Site - but this is all pretty new ground for me.

Those concerned about privacy should absolutely check out these (non-VPN-related) links:
https://www.eff.org/privacybadger

ISP usage history is just one set of digital footprints we leave behind…

I’m thinking about doing this. It would be great if I could do this at the gateway for our WIFI LAN, so that individual computers in the house didn’t need to worry about it.

Fwiw my brother (who works in computing) swears by PIA. https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/

Reasonably cheap, well rated. I niece they don’t keep records of traffic.

Bro uses it with his NFL game pass mostly to get around NFL tv blackouts here in UK.

I’d be interested to learn more about VPNs at a router level that. Than on individual devices, does anyone have any experience of setting this up?

I haven’t done this but in my research before getting ExpressVPN, I did come across this page about installing it on your router so the whole house is covered. It sounds pretty fiddly to install on your preexisting router, but the alternative is to buy a new one… not ideal. https://www.expressvpn.com/vpn-software/vpn-router

Also, @jasonw22, you’re spot on about other privacy tools being crucial. I just switched to DuckDuckGo, and have been using Ghostery since about 2011.

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I’m in the same boat. I pulled the trigger on VyprVPN after it being recommended by a guy at my co-working space. It seems to work ok. With all security it’s a delicate balance between security and inconvenience. It’s certainly slower than my normal connection but not terribly so.

I also switched to DuckDuckGo a while back and have been using Ghostery, Just added privacy badger thanks to this thread too! I should be pretty protected but I do still get oddly coincidental ads in various locations online. It’s particularly troubling when they are ads related to things I’ve only talked about with my partner at home and never searched online. If anyone has any solutions on how to stop that I’d love to hear them.

I highly recommend using Panopticlick and doing what you can to eliminate the “browser fingerprint”, but also keep in mind that it’s very difficult to eliminate entirely. Advertisers are pernicious about this stuff and they’ve gone way beyond cookies at this point.

I have used https://shadeyouvpn.com/ for a long time now. Super great service.