Is a VPN Worth It? Your Guide to Find Out Why It’s Important
Do you really need a VPN? Are you asking, is a VPN worth it?
Sure, it’ll help you access the “hidden” Netflix menus of different regions, but a VPN does so much more, and that makes it worth it! Don’t surf the internet naked, you’re not a kid anymore. Put on some grown-up digital clothes and protect yourself from the elements, because it’s not as safe out there as you may think.
If you’re weighing the pros and cons, read on as we highlight what makes a VPN worth it.
Evaluating the question, “Is a VPN worth it?”
Is something worth it is a very subjective question and the answer will vary from person to person. Gauging worth can be subjective, so we need to ask qualifying questions. Sometimes worth can be calculated from a pro/con list and other times with a questionnaire.
Whenever someone asks me about worth, I come up with a list of as many qualifying questions as possible. Think of the following as a table of contents for this article:
- What can VPN do?
- What can’t a VPN do & what are the limitations?
- How often will you use a VPN? Take the original cost and consider approximately how many times I’ll use the item. That will calculate a cost-per-use. From this, gauge a “worth it threshold” to answer one aspect of added value.
- Is there another version that might be a better deal or better fit the need? Remember to compare services. This might require a separate analysis including the level of security that’s offered as well as a cost/benefit analysis. Try not to be swayed into purchasing a premium product if you’re unlikely to utilize the extras.
- Can you afford it?
- How necessary is a VPN? Is it something elective? What level of concern should you have regarding your online security?
- Will it enhance the quality and/or your online experience? Will you gain hours of enjoyment from it?
- Does the item help you reach a goal or something you value?
- Is this a good time to purchase? Consider the time of year, past pricing, and the age of the product.
- Can you make more of a purchase? Is the software limited to a certain number of devices?
- Is there an underlying cost or an added fee? For example, risks not limited to, but also including debt, legality, etc?
- What are the risks of using a free VPN? Weigh the risks and benefits of a free vs a paid version.
Then, total the positive and negative connotations of the responses and compare. Does the positive outweigh the negative by at least 60% vs 40%? If the answer is yes, it’s worth it!
When it comes to a VPN we can ask the following questions
What Can a VPN Do?
A VPN can so many things but ultimately it facilitates a safer browsing connection while on the web. VPNs make your online behavior anonymous to a certain degree by obscuring and encrypting your digital identity and the things you do online.
A VPN will:
Protect your privacy on public networks like public Wi-Fi hotspots.
A VPN will encrypt your data and prevent theft from nefarious parties lurking to steal private materials, perhaps more than just your credit card information. The best VPN services for privacy will offer something called a VPN kill switch. With a VPN-kill-switch enabled, your device will be automatically disconnected from the internet if you lose connection with the VPN network.
Protect internet users from their internet service provider (ISP).
Many people remain unaware, but in the US of A, selling your information and data to a third party is totally legal for an internet service provider — ISP for short — to do. So many states have introduced — and failed to pass — legislation against monetization of customer data. So by employing a VPN, you prevent your ISP – or anyone else for that matter – from selling your data or making money off the data usage coming from your IP address.
Change your location online.
By routing your traffic through servers operated by a VPN service, the website(s) you visit will see an IP address coming from the location of the server, rather than the place in which you reside. This can be a useful tool against geoblocking.
Help avoid monitoring and tracking.
Some companies and websites will create a detailed profile about yourself and catalog anything they can about you. This can include online behavior, age, gender, locale/region, interests, or anything else they can provide to advertisers and monetize. By using a VPN, you can obscure your internet traffic and prevent 3rd parties from monitoring you as well as impair the reach of pesky advertisers.
Protect people from authoritarian governments.
A VPN is especially useful in protecting netizens from oppressive states in which something so simple as your browsing activity can land you in trouble, or worst-case scenario, jail.
In certain countries not only is VPN use is illegal, but it is also illegal to change any form of an IP address. The “ins and outs” of VPNs and the law can be complicated, so check with your VPN provider before visiting certain countries (like Turkey, China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Belarus, or the UAE) to see if you’ll have VPN connectivity and normal internet access. Some countries may try and block VPN use, and others may only allow government-approved VPNs; in select countries, the use of a VPN is completely banned.
What VPNs Can’t Do, and How are VPNs limited?
VPNs can’t do the following:
A VPN won’t block cookies.
It’s important to understand that you still exchange cookies with websites when using a VPN. Since VPNs connect through servers to hide your IP address, it will trick the tracking cookies by providing a “false,” or different IP.
A VPN can’t shield your internet activity on a work-issued device
If you work for a company with a professional IT department, and even if your company has a business VPN, there is never a guarantee that your content, data usage, correspondence on a work email address, or traffic on a work network or server will stay private. Check your employment contract for an “all rights reserved” clause in which the company might retain ownership of anything done on work-issued equipment.
A VPN won’t protect your computer or other devices with an internet connection from viruses.
You still need to be careful about what you do on websites. VPNs will protect you from outside vulnerabilities when going from website to website, but your computer or mobile device can still be vulnerable if you don’t have up-to-date antivirus software protection.
Phishing attempts disguised as newsletters or articles, as well as downloads with hidden malware, can still affect your system. As always, be careful which links you click when surfing the web.
A VPN can’t protect you from data breaches
A data breach is a situation in which information stored on servers or networks is stolen. Since a VPN only disguises you when you go or send information from Site-A to Site-B, if you submitted data on one of those sites and its servers are breached, it’s possible that your IP and/or some of your private data could be leaked. If you’ve become a victim of a data breach, check out this guide on what to do.
VPNs are limited in that:
Your internet usage can still be tracked when using a VPN.
If you want to be completely anonymous, you’ll need a TOR browser – a browser that bounces your traffic around different server nodes.
VPNs are not a replacement for antivirus software.
To make sure you have the best privacy and security when connected to the internet, pair a VPN with a good antivirus service.
Your speed might be affected.
As long as your not connecting to a server that’s too far away, this is rarely a concern. For instance, say you’re situated in the US and want to connect to a server overseas in South Korea — you might experience latency by what’s known as “The Trombone Effect.” Even if the VPN network server is a few miles away, the information request must be sent to the server, at which point the VPN service takes the encrypted request, sends it to South Korea, receives a response back, and the info is sent back to the user and decrypted. This increased travel time might decrease internet speed, albeit in most cases only slightly.
Apps still know what you’re doing.
VPNs obscure location but not in-app activity. Take for example Facebook. If you’re using the app through a VPN they won’t know your location, but the app can still use your behavior and what you’re doing on the app to shape ads and content you see. Essentially, everything about you besides your location might be visible to certain apps and/or sites even after you leave.
How often will you use a VPN?
Now that you know many of the things a VPN can do, take note of your browsing habits for a moment before we delve into the question: what kind of internet user will most use a VPN? There are so many reasons so many different people not only benefit but also need a VPN.
Think about how often the cases below are relevant to you. From there you’ll be able to understand whether or not a VPN can add something of value to your browsing habits, as well as how often are you’re likely to use one while surfing the web.
Students on campus.
If you’re on campus conducting research and you connect to a server operated by the university, you could be limited to the websites you’re allowed to view. Some articles may also be blocked due to geographic restrictions, and some because it goes against school policies.
Also, if you’re a student living on campus and your main internet connection is on the university’s network, a good VPN will you the ability to visit whichever page on the internet you want.
Someone who travels a lot will have more than a couple of benefits from using a VPN service.
Travelers frequently connect to free or public wi-fi networks without knowing what other people are on the network. Using a VPN is like surfing the internet in a protective private tunnel keeping your data safe from prying eyes.
So much of our lives are online and one thing frequent travelers might need access to is their financial accounts. This should never be done on an open or unsecured network without using a VPN.
If you want to watch local news or a local program when traveling, you can use a VPN to watch the news network from your area. Sometimes cable or satellite service providers allow you to watch local news stations or even watch DVR’ed programs online, but they might block access when outside of the service area.
A VPN can also help you secure the best price when purchasing airline tickets. Make sure you get the cheapest price available by searching the flight/route from a different location. You might be pleasantly surprised by the difference.
Those with a subscription to streaming services.
Location matters for those with subscriptions to services like Netflix, iPlayer, Hulu, HBOGo, Amazon Prime, etc. Changing your IP address can give you access to a whole new world of online content to stream.
Sometimes streaming is so heavy on a network that an ISP like Comcast’s Xfinity, might throttle — or slow down — your internet access. This can cause issues with lagging content and this is where VPNs can help increase your network performance. If you ever become victim to ISP throttling, log onto a VPN server and it’ll be like you’re riding on Elon Musk’s hyperloop!
Online shoppers have two reasons they need a VPN.
The main reason is privacy. If you ever purchase something online, never assume that the checkout process is safe and secure. Some websites may choose to forego secure authentication protocols for financial benefit (even though this is a careless and dangerous practice that can ultimately lead to financial ruin). VPNs will stop hackers, fraudulent retailers, and other online criminals from getting ahold of sensitive personal data because it encrypts the data as it’s transmitted over the network.
Use a VPN when shopping online and you might see different products or deals depending on your location. Take, for example, Amazon US vs Amazon UK, as an easy and relatively common example. There are many different deals and products offered based on the IP address of your computer. By changing your IP with a VPN, you can find whatever that thing was that you were looking for but wasn’t otherwise available.
An ex-pat, or someone living outside of their home country.
Access to familiar websites might be blocked due to geolocation. Sometimes, when trying to view a US-based website while in Europe, or vice-versa, your access might be denied. This mostly happens with banks or other financial services worried about suspicious traffic from overseas.
If you’re living in China and want to use the popular service WhatsApp to keep in touch with friends and family, you’ll need a VPN. If you find yourself in the Middle East, many of the countries have far less liberal views than those with the influence of Western culture, and consequentially also block out the elephant in the corner of the room – porn. Connecting to a VPN server will help you in either of these scenarios, but remember to always first check the legality of using a VPN as well as the legality of viewing content.
You may have other reasons as well. Now, consider your internet browsing habits again as well as when it’ll be pertinent to use a VPN. This analysis should help you on your way to gauging if a VPN subscription is worth it.
What Kind of Versions of VPNs Are Available?
There are VPNs for all sorts of devices whether it be a desktop computer, a mobile device like a tablet, or even a Linux-based system. Today, most VPNs can be used across multiple devices, so keep this in mind when deciding which VPN service is right for you.
Don’t forget to compare prices and versions of VPN providers. Take note of the “extras” offered and if it’s relevant to your unique situation.
Aside from platforms and devices, the main difference between VPNs is the encryption method used. VPNs follow a set of rules, known as a VPN protocol, to ensure stability and security. A VPN protocol is a set of instructions that determines how data is managed between a device and the VPN server. If you’d like to learn more about the various encryption methods employed by VPNs, check out our article on the 5 main different types of VPN encryption methods.
Is a VPN affordable?
The simple answer is yes.
VPNs have been around for quite some time now. Some VPNs are engineered for bandwidth and speed which is great for streaming, some are optimized for network coverage, and some are more security-centric focusing on encryption and privacy.
Remember that some inexpensive VPNs come with bandwidth limits. So, if you’re main concern is streaming or VOIP services (WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, etc.) make sure you go with one of the VPN services offering unlimited or high daily/monthly data limits, as well as a fast and reliable connection. More often than not a subscription will cover more than one device, but remember to double-check this before signing up.
At the end of the day, there’s definitely a VPN provider that’ll fit your budget. The average price for access to a quality VPN costs around $10 USD per month, but the price can vary if you sign up for a monthly or yearly subscription.
Take note that if you have time to do some research when making purchases online, a VPN can help you save money and pay for itself in the long term.
Is a VPN necessary?
Sure shoes and a shirt are elective things to wear, but you’re not likely to leave the house without them. The same analogy can be used with VPNs. As I said before, why would you go out on the internet without wearing your digital clothes and reveal your “data-bytes”? Not such a good idea, right?
It’s important to use a reliable VPN service to protect your personal data on all your devices. The issue is not stressed enough in my opinion, but privacy and online security should first and foremost be in the spotlight in our ever-increasing digitized world. So you’re a fan of mobile banking? Better have a VPN set up on your phone and/or mobile devices as well.
Whether it’s hiding your private information from your ISP, comfort in knowing you have a secure connection between you and the links you visit, protecting your valuable personal and sometimes financial data, or any of the aforementioned reasons, a VPN is easy to use and a worthwhile investment.
How will a VPN enhance or add value to your internet usage?
This article has already highlighted many advantages in which value can be added to one’s internet browsing experience such as saving money and privacy protection, but let’s revisit the tunnel analogy mentioned earlier.
A VPN acts like a tunnel and enhances your experience online by providing a private and secure pathway. Since a VPN cloaks where your traffic is coming from and where it’s going, your ISP might treat your connection differently, therefore enhancing your speed especially in the case of throttling.
Does a VPN help you do something you wanted to do but couldn’t?
This question depends heavily on the user as everyone’s internet activity will vary. This article covers many of the ways VPNs help keep the internet open and secure so there’s surely something in it for everyone.
Is now the right time to buy a VPN?
In short, it’s almost always a good time to purchase a VPN subscription. There are always deals to be had as well. Whether it’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or an end-of-the-year special, with just a little bit of research you can get extraordinary value for your purchase.
If you’re on the edge and can’t decide if now is the right time to subscribe to a VPN service remember there are many offers that come with trials and/or a money-back guarantee.
Ultimately, it comes down to safety and security and covering your assets. Surfing the web without a VPN is like playing with fire — it’s dangerous.
An initial $10 monthly investment is a small price to pay compared to the cost of the cleanup if your sensitive information is attacked and leaked.
How do I get the most back from buying a VPN subscription?
Searching around for the best deals on a VPN, lengthy free trials, money-back guarantees, and yearly subscriptions are all ways to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.
As previously mentioned, VPNs function across different platforms and some even offer apps for iPhone and Android phones. If you have a Chromebook you’ll want to look for a VPN service that also works with Linux.
Protection across all your devices is great especially if you use them on public wi-fi networks like at a coffee shop, or anywhere else where your internet traffic could be visible to others. This isn’t the case when using cellular data as it is seriously complicated to retrieve data via cell phone, but sometimes wi-fi is the only choice.
What are the risks of using a free VPN?
Reputation is everything, especially when choosing a VPN service. VPNs will have access to your data, encrypting it before creating a connection with a website. So, it’s important you go with a service known for its safety, security, and reliability among the online tech community.
The main risk involved in VPNs are the free ones — beware of the risks when using a free VPN. Some free VPN services collect and sell information and worse off have poor security. In high school economics, they taught the phrase TANSTAAFL. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. The same holds true in the tech world. Rarely is something ever completely free. You pay for it in information.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately it’s a personal decision that no one can make but the users themselves. Hopefully, this was a useful brainstorming session that’ll help when it comes to reviewing the worthiness of the many VPN products out there.