VPNs Aren't Magical—Here's Why

Believe it or not, the VPN industry is very saturated and full of lies. When was the last time you heard the terms “Military Grade Encryption,” “Anonymity,” or “Encrypted Tunnel”? These are bullshit claims to get you to buy the VPN company's products. They're misleading marketing terms targeted at those who don't know better in an attempt to scare them into purchasing their service.

Most people who purchase these subscriptions will feel like they're super secure and private, but VPNs aren't magical tools. They have their limitations, and anonymity is one of them. Before we get into debunking the VPNs lies, we need to understand how a VPN really works first. Let's take a few steps back and review the basics.

What is a VPN?

A VPN, abbreviation for Virtual Private Network, is a technology used to route your Internet traffic through another computer/server. VPNs are frequently used by businesses and corporations to allow their clients to access company resources, such as local servers. However, these were adopted as a commercial solution for security and privacy as well.

Even though VPNs are now used for personal usage, it doesn't change the fundamental functionality. The core remains the same, routing Internet traffic through another computer/server. Just usually this time, the connection between you and the VPN server is encrypted. Your traffic is decrypted on the server's side and is routed normally.

Debunking Myths and Bullshit Claims

Anonymous Mask

Claim: VPNs Anonymize You

From TorGuard VPN's homepage:

TorGuard VPN Service encrypts your internet access and provides an anonymous IP so you can browse securely.

This claim is false because VPNs do not make you anonymous alone. There are other methods of tracking you, even if you rotate your IP address using a VPN. For example, websites and analytics scripts can use browser fingerprinting to follow you across the internet, which works without cookies. This means even if you use “incognito” or “private browsing” mode with or without a VPN without hardening your browser for privacy, you will still be tracked.

Here's some more information on browser fingerprinting and how to mitigate it on Firefox

Encryption Icon by Flatpik

Claim: VPNs Encrypt Your Traffic

From ExpressVPN's homepage:

ExpressVPN hides your IP address and encrypts your network data so no one can see what you’re doing. One click, and you’re protected.

This claim is also widely used by VPN marketing, but while it's partially true, it's still misleading to the user and doesn't provide the full context of what exactly is being encrypted. Like I mentioned in the first section of this blog post, commercial VPNs usually encrypt the connection stream between you and the server only. When the server gets the encrypted traffic, they decrypt it and route it normally. Once your traffic meets the server, it is no longer encrypted.

Due to the server-side decryption, this means that the VPN provider can see all your non-HTTPS traffic and log it. I'm not saying all services are logging your traffic, but it is a possibility. They have full control over your Internet traffic and can attempt to manipulate it if they want to. Nonetheless, VPN companies would most likely not mess with your traffic because it would be mostly apparent to the end-user.

Claim: VPNs Protect Your Location Data

From IPVanish's homepage:

Secure your Wi-Fi connection and armor your location data with VPN.

This claim is partially valid but is hugely misleading. Here's why it is partially correct. Whenever you visit a website, your IP address is exposed to the server you connect to. Your IP address can be used to locate you; however, this would be a very vague estimate in most cases. The most “location data” that a person could discover with your address would be the city you live in. You can check what location data your address gives out using an IP checker tool.

The reason why this is also false is that whenever you go to a website, you don't give out your exact location. This claim is missing the context and other essential details. It is intentionally used to mislead the user.

Why You Should Use a VPN

Now that we've gone over a few myths, let's talk about what a VPN can do.

Protect Your Internet Traffic From Your ISP and Network Snoopers

Since commercial VPNs encrypt your Internet traffic up to the VPN server, this can be useful to hide your browsing habits from your Internet service provider or anybody else on the network. This could be a great tool to use on public Wi-Fi connections, such as those found in airports, restaurants and hotels, because it makes your traffic unreadable by potential snoopers.

Get Around Censorship

In countries like China and Iran, Internet censorship is prevalent, but VPNs can help people get around the blocks. Due to the partial traffic encryption, all your traffic will appear as gibberish to the Internet service provider. This should allow most people to circumvent their Internet restrictions.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, VPNs aren't magical. They don't make you anonymous by themselves, they don't fully encrypt your traffic and they don't mask your full geo-location. Most companies are full of lies and make bullshit claims in hopes of attracting frightened customers. I suggest you do your own research and find a VPN that works well for you and does not advertise these claims.

Here are some of my personal suggestions in no particular order: IVPN, Windscribe and Mullvad. I am not sponsored by these companies.

Sources

This Video Is Sponsored By ███ VPN – YouTube VPN Services – PrivacyToolsIO Misleading promises of the world's fastest, anonymous, military-grade VPNs – IVPN Blog TorGuard – Homepage ExpressVPN – Homepage IPVanish – Homepage

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