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How to choose the best VPN service

It looks like almost every business in the world is interested in getting as much personal information as possible about us these days! And it's sad to see that so many teenagers (including my kids) don't see this as being a very wrong thing. Back in the day, you had the right to your privacy, and it's good to see that at least our European neighbors are doing something about it. Hopefully, the US will follow their lead soon.

Until then, though, our Internet activities are tracked by all sorts of pixels and scripts and heatmaps, which utilize code that is placed on the sites that we're visiting, following all our steps. Not only that, but your Internet service provider has recently gotten permission to sell your browsing data to all the interested parties.

So, is there a way to prevent all these terrible things from happening? Sure thing! You can simply disconnect from the web! I know that it is almost impossible to do that, though, so here's the next best thing: subscribe to a VPN service.

A VPN (virtual private network) helps you increase data privacy and stay anonymous online by bypassing the "middle-men", the computers that transport your data to its destination. In fact, your data continues to travel through your IPS's computers just like before, but it is encrypted, so it can't be intercepted. Then, it reaches one of the VPN servers, where it is decrypted and is able to reach the target URL. Here's a diagram that explains how this process works.

To the outside world, your Internet activity will seem to take place in the location of your VPN server. And since most virtual private network providers have dozens, and sometimes even hundreds of servers, you could be an anonymous French citizen today, a Polish one tomorrow, and so on. Take that, you greedy ISP or advertising company!

VPNs aren't a recent invention, though. People have been using them for more than a decade now, with the goal of accessing company servers remotely, without jeopardizing their data. And you may have already used a virtual private network application named Teamviewer to access your computer and files remotely.

There are lots of VPNs out there, and I'll have to admit that most of them are quite good. So, how do you choose the best service, which is guaranteed to meet all your needs?

Begin by answering this question: do you want to geo-shift your location? In other words, do you want your ISP and other tracking companies and institutions to think that you reside in another country? This will also make it easier to access geo-restricted websites. If the answer is affirmative, you will need to pick a virtual private network provider which has servers in the geographic region that interests you. To give you an example, if you want to access a UK-based TV station, the VPN provider should also have UK servers. It's easy to verify that, because most service providers list all the server locations on their websites. Most people subscribe to VPN services that provide lots of different servers, which are placed in as many locations around the globe as possible.

It's time to answer the next question: do you need real anonymity? VPN servers will encrypt all your Internet traffic, but their owners can have access to your unencrypted data, and may choose to show it or sell it to other parties. So, ensure that you choose a very popular provider; if it has lots of users, it means that your activity is less likely to be noticed. Also, ensure that the provider you've chosen doesn't keep any traffic logs. This doesn't necessarily mean that it'll do that, but you should read their privacy statement carefully.

Be sure to choose a VPN provider that offers support for OpenVPN, the best data encryption protocol out there. Avoid the services that only provide support for the outdated PPTP protocol.

Finally, choose a service that provides a decent data transfer speed. I guarantee that any virtual private network service, no matter how fast, will slow down your Internet connection, so take the time to test several providers. Use their trials or money-back guarantees to evaluate several sellers, and then choose the service that works best for you. To get started, here's a website that ranks VPN services depending on several important criteria.