If you’re reading this, I assume you’re either a) a content publisher who wants to track users or b) a company that provides VPN services and wants to improve conversion.
You may be familiar with the notion of trackers, devices that surreptitiously monitor your browsing activity and collect information about your visits to ad servers (and sometimes even the websites you visit).
Tracking software and devices can be a pain to remove. And even when you do remove them, you often find that they’ve left behind evidence of your browsing activity that is impossible to cover up. For example, many browsers include a “recently closed” list that contains every website you visit. If one of these appears on a tracker’s list, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find more evidence of your activities than you’d like. Even when you think you’ve covered your tracks, there’s usually somewhere in the deep web that your activities can still be tracked.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are often used to trick tracker software and devices into believing that you are a different user. When you use a VPN, your traffic is rerouted through a remote server which prevents trackers from linking your IP address to your activity. This allows you to enjoy online privacy as if you were in the physical world. In most cases, a VPN is all that’s needed to browse anonymously.
Unfortunately, not all VPNs are created equal. Some providers are more privacy conscious than others and will keep your activities private even when you’re using their services. These VPNs are a rarity and require a bit more work to set up and use. Most providers sell access to your online identity to third parties and monitor your activities anyway so you might as well keep their services to yourself.
The Need For Anonymity
While not all content is made equal when it comes to online privacy, websites and services that use trackers tend to place a higher value on collecting and sharing information about their users. In many cases, these trackers are actually baked into the applications and browsers that you use. And even when you use non-tracking browsers or applications, some web content and services are still likely to be tracked. Think of the countless metrics and numbers that Facebook is able to compile about your online life. They know a lot about you, even if you didn’t give them your personal information. Your internet service provider knows a lot, too. If you use applications and online services that incorporate tracking, you’re just one click away from having personal information hoarded by a third party.
For that reason, it is often beneficial to use a VPN when you’re online. And since most VPNs are free, there’s absolutely no reason to not give it a try.
The Drawbacks Of Using A VPN
There are, however, several major disadvantages to using a VPN. First, not all VPNs are created equal when it comes to privacy. Some provider’s VPN services are more private than others. In most cases, you have no control over which VPNs your IP address is randomly assigned to so if you want to keep your browsing activities private, it’s best to choose a VPN that uses a more obscure algorithm to derive its IP address. Second, setting up a VPN is not easy. In most cases, you need to enter a username, create a password, and confirm it by entering it again. After that, you have to select a server location – usually either in Europe or North America – and then log in. From there, you can add devices that you want to connect to the VPN and can modify settings such as the amount of data you want to allow through each session. Most people find that the configuration process is quite obtrusive and there’s often a learning curve involved. Third, using a VPN does not guarantee that your personal information will stay private. In most cases, your data will be sold to third parties (often for marketing purposes). And since VPNs are generally used to trick analytics applications and devices into thinking that you are a different user, your personal information is often compiled and sold to multiple companies. Finally, you must ensure that your VPN is always up to date with the latest patches and software. Otherwise, you may find that your protected data is at risk of being compromised. And last but not least, VPNs do not provide protection against other threats such as hackers and thieves. If you use a public Wi-Fi connection, you put your personal data at risk. While it’s true that you’re protected from physical surveillance via a VPN, it does not mean that your information will be safe from online criminals.
In terms of the last point, one of the biggest concerns for users is whether or not their activity will be tracked. Since a VPN is often used to trick analytics applications and devices into believing that you are a different user, it’s quite possible that your activity will be compiled and used by marketers. And if that data is used for marketing purposes, you have no control over whether or not you want to participate. In these situations, you might as well leave the house without a shirt on because there’s no way to cover up your tattoos.
With all that in mind, let’s take a quick look at how to track user when using VPNs.
From here, we can begin to establish some general guidelines for using VPNs. First, ensure that your VPN software and the connected devices are always up to date and configured correctly. In most cases, this means ensuring that you are always using the latest patches and that the software and devices are configured to accept and process VPN connections. Second, only use VPNs when necessary. Many people choose to use VPNs simply to browse the internet without having their activities tracked. While VPNs can be quite useful in these situations, you should only use them when you need to (basically, only when you go online through public Wi-Fi). Third, ensure that your VPN allows you to choose the number of devices that can connect to it. In most cases, this is done through the use of virtual hosts so you can have a separate IP address for each device that connects to it. This way, you can ensure that your activity is not being tracked by third parties. Finally, ensure that your VPN does not keep any logs of your activity. These logs can and frequently do contain personally identifying information that you would not want to have revealed.
Beyond The Basics
Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s begin to establish some guidelines for using VPNs in more specific situations. To begin with, always use a VPN when downloading content from large websites. This is because many websites use “content-trading” algorithms that work in conjunction with third party trackers to compile data about your activities (including purchases) and to provide you with targeted ads. In these cases, using a VPN prevents your activities from being tracked and compiled by the third parties involved. For that reason, always use a VPN when downloading large files from websites (including music, movies, and digital books).
VPNs are also quite useful when using public Wi-Fi. These are free networks that you can access whenever you visit a coffee shop or other public places. However, ensure that your VPN does not keep any logs of your activity while connected to these networks (because these networks often provide publicly available information that could identify you).
As for purchasing content, if you download music, movies, or digital books from iTunes or other similar services, you have no control over whether or not your personal information is being tracked. These companies often provide the technical capability to track users and they frequently share your information with third parties for marketing purposes. While it’s true that you’re protected from physical surveillance through a VPN, it does not mean that your data is safe from online criminals. For that reason, always use a VPN when purchasing content (especially digital goods) online.
Use A VPN To Browse The Internet Anonymously
If you’re reading this, I assume that you’re either a) a content publisher who wants to track users or b) a company that provides VPNs and wants to improve conversion.
In most cases, the best approach is to use a VPN to browse the internet anonymously. This is a great way to avoid having your activities tracked and to ensure that your identity cannot be associated with your online activity. To begin with, ensure that your VPN is always up to date and configured correctly. This means that you’re using the latest patches and that the software and devices are accepting and processing VPN connections. Second, ensure that your VPN does not keep any logs of your activity. These logs can and frequently do contain personally identifying information that you would not want to have revealed.