These VPNs Can Help Improve Your Online Privacy (2024)

Internet speed

VPNs somewhat lower your internet speed because you’re routing your traffic through an encrypted server before communicating with apps, websites and other internet services. The fastest VPNs feature an average download speed loss of 20% or less. Generally, even folks with slower connections -- like satellite internet -- won’t notice a marginal 20% dip. For bandwidth-intensive applications like gaming, 4K video streaming or uploading large files, you’ll want a virtual private network with minimal speed loss. Casual users with faster internet speeds should be fine with more than 20% speed loss, but we look for VPNs that keep speed loss below 50%.

Privacy

VPNs bolster your privacy by masking your IP address, which, like your physical address, indicates identifying information about your geographical location. At a minimum, we recommend a VPN with 256-bit encryption, a strict no-logging policy and DNS leak protection. Because logging is tough to verify -- you can and should be skeptical of your VPN provider’s zero-log claims -- look for regular third-party audits. Additionally, transparency reports offer peace of mind. We also suggest sticking with a VPN that includes a kill switch. More privacy-concerned users like investigative journalists or political activists will appreciate advanced features such as obfuscation (which makes it harder for ISPs to determine that you’re using a VPN), Tor over VPN (for additional encryption using the Tor network) and a double VPN (which relies on a second VPN server connection to enhance encryption). Folks with critical privacy needs should consider a VPN provider with jurisdiction outside of the Five, Nine or 14 Eyes intelligence-sharing communities for even stronger peace of mind.

Server network

When considering VPN server networks, look at the overall number of servers as well as the individual country locations. For instance, one virtual private network company may have twice the total number of servers as a competitor, but half the different country locations, meaning you’ve got fewer international choices. At the high end, the most comprehensive VPNs for travel offer 90-plus individual countries, but anywhere over 60 countries will work for many folks.

Outside of country locations, some VPNs allow file sharing across all servers, whereas others feature dedicated P2P (peer-to-peer) options. For purposes like torrenting, check whether your desired provider permits file sharing on all servers or select ones.

Additionally, you'll sometimes find specialty servers, like Tor (The Onion Router) over TPN, Double VPN or obfuscated servers. Onion over VPN and Double VPN servers provide extra privacy by bolstering your encryption even further when compared to a standard VPN connection, with Tor using the Onion network while a double VPN relies on a second VPN tunnel. On the other hand, obfuscated servers make it more difficult for apps, websites or internet service providers (ISPs) to determine that you're using a VPN.

Device support

Think about your devices and what you’d like to run a VPN on. Most VPN companies offer apps for Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android/Android TV, iOS/iPadOS and web browsers. Apple TV apps are increasingly common, with ExpressVPN, NordVPN and IPVanish featuring TVOS applications. A graphical user interface (GUI) application may be easier for Linux users than a command line interface (CLI) option. Surfshark, Proton and PIA boast Linux GUI apps. You can typically install a VPN on your router for whole-home coverage and use it on devices that don’t support native VPN apps, like Xbox consoles, although this will typically void the warranty on the router.

While most VPN companies let you install an app on as many gadgets as you wish, you’re sometimes limited to simultaneous devices. NordVPN is restrictive at six, ExpressVPN follows with eight and Proton gives you 10. Surfshark, PIA and IPVanish are unlimited. Even with a provider like Nord, Express or Proton, you can still install a VPN on as many devices as you wish, but you’ll only be able to have a handful of active sessions at once. Most folks should be fine even with six simultaneous connections, but families or hardcore power users may feel constrained.

Streaming capabilities

While VPNs can be great for privacy, they’re also helpful for unblocking region-restricted entertainment content. You can use a VPN to watch streaming services like Max or Hulu from your home country when traveling abroad. On the flip side, VPNs unlock access to foreign Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video libraries.

Cost

You can sign up for a monthly, bi-annual, annual or multi-year VPN subscription. Although multi-year deals typically net you the most savings, we usually recommend sticking with an annual plan for the best savings with the lowest risk. The virtual private network you sign up for may initially be fast, private and great for geo-unblocking, but may become slower, suffer a data breach or stop allowing access to foreign Netflix libraries over a year.

On the high end, VPNs such as Express set you back $100 per year, with value-packed providers like Surfshark and PIA offering year-long prices from $40 to $60. Some companies include price hikes: NordVPN normally charges $60 annually for your first year, then your plan renews at $100 per 12 months. Similarly, Surfshark goes for $48 a year upfront, then renews at $60 annually. Make a budget, then find a VPN provider that fits the bill while being mindful of price hikes. Notably, you often can renew while avoiding raised renewal rates by taking advantage of seasonal discounts like Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals.

These VPNs Can Help Improve Your Online Privacy (2024)

FAQs

How does a VPN improve privacy? ›

It works by connecting a user's device to the VPN server, then passing their internet traffic through the VPN provider's internet connection. This hides browsing information and makes it more difficult for bad actors to gather or monitor the user's online activity.

How can a VPN protect you when you're online your answer? ›

Your IP address reveals a lot of information about you, and it could be used to launch cyberattacks. A virtual private network changes your IP address to the VPN server's, keeping your real IP address hidden as you browse the web. If you hide your IP, hackers can't use it to target you.

What are VPNs good for? ›

Why should I use a VPN service? For anyone seeking a safer, freer, and more secure online experience, the benefits of using a VPN are myriad. A VPN protects its users by encrypting their data and masking their IP address, leaving their browsing history and location untraceable.

How a VPN protects your IP address and privacy? ›

A VPN connection establishes a secure connection between you and the internet. Via the VPN, all your data traffic is routed through an encrypted virtual tunnel. This disguises your IP address when you use the internet, making its location invisible to everyone.

Is A VPN good enough for privacy? ›

While a VPN masks your IP address and encrypts your internet traffic, it does not hide the type of device you are using. Websites can still gather device-specific information (including operating system, screen resolution and browser type) through methods like browser fingerprinting.

Does a VPN improve your internet? ›

If you're using a legitimate virtual private network (VPN), you probably won't notice changes in internet speed. The amount by which your connection slows down should be so small that it doesn't impact your online activity. In some situations, using a VPN can actually improve your overall speed.

What do VPNs hide? ›

A VPN encrypts your traffic and hides your IP address. As a result, it also hides your location, browsing history, searches, downloads, and any other activities, such as gaming or streaming. A VPN hides this information from bad actors, ISPs, websites, and even oppressive governments.

What will VPN not protect you from? ›

While they will protect your IP and encrypt your internet history, but that is as much as they can do. They won't keep you safe, for instance, if you visit phishing websites or download compromised files. When you use a VPN, you are still at risk of: Trojans.

Can a VPN be traced back to me? ›

Can you be tracked with a VPN? You can't be tracked using a VPN because it encrypts your data. As a result, your ISP or bad actors can't get any information out of your traffic. They only see the VPN server's IP address, while your real IP and online activities stay hidden.

Is having a VPN illegal? ›

Are VPNs legal to use? Yes, VPNs are legal in most countries around the world, including the US, Canada, and most of Europe. However, you might risk heavy fines or even imprisonment for using a VPN in a country that bans it, for example, North Korea or Iraq.

Why are VPNs safe? ›

Protection against third-party tracking.

When you reroute your connection from your internet service provider to a remote VPN, the VPN replaces your real IP address with a dummy IP, rendering you untraceable to your internet service provider, advertisers, fraudsters, and the state.

What is the benefit of using VPN? ›

Without a VPN, you may experience an influx of pop-up ads that can interrupt your browsing experience and be a general nuisance. If you use a VPN, it can stop people, software, and web browsers from gaining access to your connection. This keeps the information you transmit and receive secure and anonymous.

Can VPN see what I'm doing? ›

Final thoughts. Any VPN service can monitor your browsing history, but reputable ones won't and will ensure they have no logs of your browsing history that could be handed over to third parties. That way, if they receive a court order to share information, it's impossible for them to comply.

Can my parents see my search history if I use a VPN? ›

Anyone who can access your computer can see your search history, and there's nothing a VPN can do about that. Therefore, if you want to hide your search history, the best solutions are to clear your browser's history manually and to use private browsing.

Should I be worried if someone has my IP address? ›

Yes, you should be a little worried. Having your IP allows them to do quite a few things — ban you on games and websites, launch DDoS attacks, and find out your personal data. So if you have a hunch about someone having your IP, it's best to change it and use a VPN to protect it.

How do VPNs preserve confidentiality? ›

A VPN works by establishing encrypted connections between devices. (VPNs often use the IPsec or SSL/TLS encryption protocols.) All devices that connect to the VPN set up encryption keys, and these keys are used to encode and decode all information sent between them.

What is the biggest advantage of a VPN? ›

The main benefit of using a virtual private network (VPN) is data privacy. But a VPN offers much more than that: Privacy. Using a VPN masks your real IP address and location, making your online activity more private.

What is the advantage of using VPN? ›

Without a VPN, you may experience an influx of pop-up ads that can interrupt your browsing experience and be a general nuisance. If you use a VPN, it can stop people, software, and web browsers from gaining access to your connection. This keeps the information you transmit and receive secure and anonymous.

Is VPN a privacy enhancing technology? ›

VPNs create a secure, encrypted connection between a user's device and the internet, making it difficult for third parties to intercept or access the user's data.

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