Cord cutters are often wondering are VPNs safe to use for streaming content? Before we answer this question, let’s first talk about what a VPN is and how it works. Then, once we have a firm understanding of this technology we can properly answer the question, are VPNs safe?
For our discussion we are going to focus in on three of the very best VPN services on the market today. I’ve personally used all three of these services and they are all very good for securing your anonymity and data while streaming online.
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Are VPNs Safe – A Definition
Before we answer are VPNs safe? Let’s first discuss what a VPN is and how it works. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. When you connect to a website on the internet, the typical workflow is this:
- You type a web url into your web browser.
- Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) connects you to the web server which stores the web page you’re trying to visit.
- The web server then “serves up” that web page back to your ISP.
- Your ISP sends you that web page to your web browser.
Obviously, this is a simplified overview, however, this is generally how the traffic flows between your computer and the web server you are connecting to.
There are several risk factors that can arise from connecting to a web server in this way (without the use of a VPN). And it’s these reasons that we look to VPN service providers for a solution. They are:
- Your ISP can look at everything you are doing on the Internet and distribute that data.
- Your IP address is visible to your end-point connections (i.e., web server).
- The web server your connected to can store your data on their servers.
- If you are using a public WiFi, people can “look-in” on your unencrypted traffic.
But do you really need a VPN?
VPN technology found its roots in business environments as a way to provide greater security for conducting online transactions or accessing confidential documents. By masking or hiding your IP address, VPNs allow users to secure their private and personal data from ISP records.
They also provide a layer of protection when conducting online transactions from unsecured networks or harmful websites such as those in coffee shops, air ports, or any other public WiFi hotspot.
The other piece to this is the whole net neutrality argument that has made major headlines as of late. VPNs can be leveraged to represent digital democracy, freedom of privacy and can be used to facilitate the circumvention of censorship.
Are VPNs Safe – How?
When you use a VPN, you are effectively inserting a “middle man”, or in this case a “middle server” between you and the end-point web server to which you’re connecting to view a web page or stream content.
By inserting a VPN server between you and the endpoint web server or streaming service, the streaming service you are connecting to will not know your IP address or even what country you are connecting from. Instead, it will only see the IP address and location of the VPN server.
For example, if I’m in Canada and I connect to a VPN sever located in the United States, then connect to streaming service such as Netflix, from Netflix’s point-of-view it appears I am connecting from the US and not Canada. This is a common use of VPN service providers – to unlock or bypass geo-blocked content.
Often streaming services like Hulu Live TV, Sling TV, Fubo TV, and AT&T TV Now will either completely block content to countries outside of the United States, or alter the available content depending on where you live.
VPNs can be a great way to get around these geo-restrictions and unlock this content. However, streaming services such as Netflix are getting wise to these tactics and are making it increasingly difficult for VPN service providers to connect to their servers. This is known as blacklisting.
Blacklisting is basically an access control mechanism by which web servers can allow any and all traffic through to their servers with exception to those IP address, email addresses, etc. that appear on the “blacklist”.
You’re probably thinking, okay, well now my ISP can’t see what I’m streaming, and the end-point web server or streaming service I’m connecting can’t see me…but the VPN service provider can see everything!
This is why it is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL that you are sure that whatever VPN service provider your choose keeps no records or log files of your activity. Particularly be wary of the so called “Free” VPN service providers out there. Don’t kid yourself if you think they’re not in it to make money. And they will do so by selling your information to third-party ad agencies.
Instead, use a reputable VPN service provider, such as PureVPN, IPVanish and ExpressVPN. I’m going to refrain from them in any particular order here like most sites will do. Truth is they all work very well, keep no records or logs of your activity, and give you true connection throughput.
In my experience, many of the free VPNs will also throttle your Internet connection speed and have bandwidth and data caps. I’ve seen the speed throttling so bad in some cases that it makes streaming any HD content unwatchable.
Are VPNs Legal?
You’re probably thinking that with all the “hiding” and “un-blocking” VPNs provide, they must be illegal! Well that couldn’t be further from the truth. VPN services are perfectly legal in most countries and have been used for years in business environments to establish secure remote connections to business networks.
That said, what you do when connecting to a VPN server can be deemed illegal. For example, viewing or signing up for services that are not permitted in your country can create some problems for you legally. As well, downloading explicit, or pirated content can have legal implications too. It’s activities such as these that have given VPN service providers a bad rap.
In some cases, use of a VPN can breach your terms of service for a given platform (such as Netflix), rather than the law itself.
Truth is, VPN service providers are simply providing you with a secure connection so that the contents of what your are streaming remains anonymous, and the location of where your are streaming from remains anonymous…that’s it!
While VPNs themselves aren’t illegal in the US and many other parts of the world, VPNs are sometimes used by people to disguise the fact that they’re carrying out activities that break the law.
VPN service providers such as PureVPN, IPVanish and ExpressVPN can cater to very legitimate business needs and are not responsible for what any particular individual is using their secure connections for.
Installing A VPN Service On Your Devices
The beauty of VPN software is that it can be installed on almost any smart device in your home. This includes, desktop computers, laptops, smart phones, televisions, streaming boxes and routers. Basically, any device you consume Internet data on.
Many of the VPN providers, including the ones listed in this article, will provide a Windows or IOS app to install on your more traditional computing devices. Additionally, you can install Google Playstore apps for your Android Media Streaming boxes.
Sometimes it may make sense to setup your router to automatically connect to your VPN service provider. Some higher-end routers like the ASUS AC5300 Tri-Band WiFi Router will have the option to connect to a VPN in their stock firmware. If your router doesn’t, you can add this functionality by installing open-source firmware such as DD-WRT or Tomato.
The advantage of this is you’ll never forget to turn on your VPN service and every device connecting to the Internet behind your router will be protected.
For example, ExpressVPN has a very easy to use Windows app that allows you to connect to any of their 100’s of servers around the world, effectively unblocking any geo-restrictions and content.
Are VPNs Safe – Final Words
I hope you’ve found this article useful and I have answered the question, “Are VPNs Safe?”. Having a good reliable VPN provider is a great addition to any cord cutters repertoire.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out some of our other articles today:
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And if you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out my Top 10 Antenna Picks for this year and leave me a comment!