What Does a VPN Hide? 10 Things You Didn't Realize

Last updated on October 14, 2021

One of the main selling points of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the privacy it offers. When a person connects to a VPN and uses the internet, the data is encrypted. Encrypted data means that it can’t be read by anyone who isn’t authorized to view the information.

But what does a VPN hide exactly? What doesn’t it hide? What are the other benefits you can expect when you purchase a VPN?

In this guide, we’ll answer all of these questions about VPNs. We will go over who VPNs hide your data from, what they don’t hide, how to find the best security tools for your online privacy, and much more!

Who Should Use a VPN?

Techies aren’t the only ones who should be using a VPN; everyone could benefit from using a VPN. It offers you security while using public Wi-Fi, prevents attacks from hackers, offers privacy from apps and services that you, among several other benefits.

These benefits are the driving forces for the large boost in popularityin VPNs. For added security, they can be installed on just about any device that accesses the internet.

How VPNs Work

When connected to a VPN, a user’s IP address changes. The initial connection to this IP address is also encrypted for added security. When a user is on a website or app, the third-party platform will get a certain amount of information from your device. Rather than freely giving this data away, the VPN encrypts this data. That means that third-party sites can’t snoop around for your information.

When you’re on public Wi-Fi, encryption is especially important. This is because people who are on the same Wi-Fi can hack into more information than when you’re on private, password-protected Wi-Fi. This means when hackers dig for data, they’ll only find encrypted information.

Moreover, the VPN tells your computer how to communicate with servers. It tells it to remain connected and instructs it to encrypt any available data. Without a VPN, users are prone to hackers, stolen information, or receiving unwanted ads.

What Does a VPN Hide?

We know that a VPN can be a great tool for privacy and security. However, what does a VPN hide exactly? Knowing what is protected can help users understand how to proceed with caution online.

Here’s what a high-quality and reliable VPN will hide.

1. Search History

When we think of our search history, we often think of what is listed in our internet browser. With one click, those can all be deleted. And once it’s deleted, it’s gone, right?

Not quite! Even after deleting cookies and searches, your internet service provider or ISP tracks and stores all your search history. Your PC will only move the search history to a separate part of the hard drive. A VPN is the only way to hide your ISP from a third-party site.

This also keeps the internet from monetizing your searches. For example, if you start searching about ways to adopt a dog, you may suddenly get ad after ad about buying dog supplies online. Keep your personal life more personal by keeping your searches from monetization.

2. IP Address

Before any device can access the internet, it must have an IP address. An IP address or internet protocol internet is like a label for the specific device used on the internet. This means that it is also connected to a physical location, search history, and internet service provider.

Not only does everything you do on the internet go back to the IP address, but the IP address itself can reveal information about you. So to keep your data separated from your address and to keep your IP address hidden from people, you should install a VPN.

3. Personal Retail Prices

Have you ever shopped around for plane tickets and not immediately bought them? Then you go back the next day, and they’re only getting more expensive? You’re not the only one, and this is no accident or coincidence.

Retailers can look at all kinds of data based on your IP address, search history, and cookies. For example, your location may mean they will charge you more. They may look at your past vacations, your interests, and your social media. All of this means they may feel more comfortable raising prices if you don’t check out right away.

What does a VPN hide to keep prices fair? By hiding your IP address, location, and search history, retailers can’t judge whether you’re willing to pay more or not. Use a VPN, log into a different location with a lack of historical data, and watch as prices fall for things such as flights.

4. Medical Information

So many industries are moving online, and medical care is no exception. Your doctor may have informed you that you can download an app to communicate with their office. These apps aren’t just for scheduling — they can deliver test results, diagnoses, and personal conversations with your doctor.

If you’re concerned about online safety, you’ve probably worried about how this move by healthcare professionals to online databases is trustworthy. Thankfully, the technology used by any good healthcare team will be protected by a VPN.

What does a VPN hide when it comes to medical information? It creates a secured portal of encrypted information. Even if someone were to get into the system, there wouldn’t be much they could understand.

5. Location

As we’ve mentioned, a VPN will hide your location from the world. This is a benefit for fooling retailers and their price increase, but it goes beyond that.

One common benefit of a VPN is known as geo-spoofing. Not only will a VPN hide your location, but it can also fool a website into thinking you’re in a different location. Even better, you can choose where that false location is!

Let’s say that you want to access a website that is location restricted. Now you can simply change your location on the internet with the click of a button or two and access any website you want.

This can be a fun way of getting additional movies and tv shows. For example, streaming services often different content from one country to the next. So when you find yourself tired of what you see on your streaming services, simply switch your location and have access to a new list of movies and series.

However, it isn’t all just for fooling sites to get a different movie; VPNs can help you share information. Journalists and citizens in restrictive countries can use a VPN to change their location and have more access to sites that are banned or limited in their current location.

6. Life Events

When big things happen in your life, you don’t want to worry about random sites or individuals accessing your search information. When you start booking things like your wedding reception or honeymoon, advertisers will mark this as an event. You probably don’t want life events to be shared with random sites and the entire internet.

Protect yourself from being targeted by advertisers that will place you in a specific demographic, labeling you by your life events. With a VPN, you’re free to keep anything about your personal life to yourself.

7. Personal Details

The availability of public Wi-Fi hotspots and businesses offering Wi-Fi to customers increases every year. While this is a great convenience for those on the go, this could spell disaster for anyone without a VPN.

If you don’t have a VPN installed and in use, connecting to a public server isn’t recommended. That’s because your device is open to hackers looking to take advantage of anyone on a public network. People can steal passwords, login information and see what a user is accessing at the moment.

But with a VPN, using public Wi-Fi is far less risky. All data is encrypted before leaving any device. Suddenly the data hackers are looking for is unreadable.

8. Online Activity

Throttling is when an internet service provider purposefully reduces the internet speeds of a user. This is because they may have agreements with certain companies to lower speeds on other sites, discouraging users from staying on the site.

For example, you may notice that you can surf some sites with ease. But suddenly it takes forever to load a YouTube video. In this case, your internet may be throttled by your ISP.

Luckily, there is a simple fix. A VPN will keep your ISP in the dark and forced to deliver promised speeds. If your activity online isn’t fully available to your ISP, they can’t determine which sites you are on and whether they think they should be throttled. Therefore, a VPN helps prevent slow online experiences. If an internet provider doesn’t know that you’re visiting a site they typically throttle, they will continue offering the fastest speeds.

9. Torrenting

The most common way to download a file from the internet is a direct download. However, torrenting is another way to download large files. With torrenting, a peer-to-peer network is used, and multiple sources provide the data.

Because torrenting involves downloading from multiple sources, this could leave the person downloading the data vulnerable to attacks. If a file contains malware, users could suddenly lose their devices to hackers. A VPN hides your IP address, and so it hides you from being a potential target of hackers.

Many may know of torrenting as a way of downloading music, movies, and other content. While torrenting isn’t illegal and can be used for legal activities, downloading copyrighted material for free from peers is illegal. Some don’t always realize when they’ve entered the illegal world of torrenting. However, a VPN may protect you from becoming an easy target of federal notices and warnings.

10. The VPN Itself

VPNs have many benefits, but we don’t necessarily want everyone to know we’re using one. What does a VPN hide? Well, itself.

The best VPNs don’t just hide your activity — they use obfuscated servers which add an extra layer of security and make their presence undetectable. With this security, the servers that collect data can’t see that a VPN is being used. Protect your use of a VPN from the government, your ISP, or institutions where you are using the internet.

For some, having this extra layer of protection isn’t just a nice addition. This could be a matter of freedom. Some countries with strict censorship do not allow VPNs. This is because citizens could suddenly have access to restricted sites that contradict the government’s messaging.

In this case, the use of a VPN could lead to serious consequences. However, a good VPN will stay out of sight from inquiring eyes. This way, anyone can access any internet site they need.

Who Do VPNs Hide Data From?

So we’ve covered the question of “What does a VPN hide?”. However, who is this data being hidden from? Knowing who can and can’t see your data is important when opening up your private information to the internet.

Here’s who cannot see your data with a VPN.

ISPs

ISPs, or Internet Service Providers, may give you the internet you need. However, that doesn’t mean they just deliver and leave you alone. They will continue to collect data to get even more money from you than just your monthly bill.

An ISP will track every click you make and store this data. They may then sell logs of your surfing to marketing companies. They may even charge you a premium fee to get the privacy you would expect. They can also turn over your data to the government.

In addition, there is also a concern over all the data sitting there in their logs. If a hacker breaches the ISP’s database, all your information is vulnerable to malicious actors.

So, while your ISP may deliver great internet, you don’t want to just hand all your information over to them. And you don’t have to. With a VPN, an ISP may see the amount of traffic you are creating. However, it won’t understand any of the encrypted data that is received from the VPN.

Routers

Similar to ISPs, your router is monitoring or even blocking where you go on the web. Restrictions may be installed to block sites, or a network administrator can see where users are going on the router. A VPN will encrypt data sent to routers, so websites can be accessed or not reviewed.

Administrators may have limitations in place that will block the use of a VPN. By using a VPN on a non-IPsec protocol, you may bypass this restriction.

Your Employer

Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, the thought of having your employer over your shoulder isn’t an appealing idea. A VPN is a great way to stop your employer from checking in on every website you browse or every click you make. It offers employees peace of mind and makes the workday more enjoyable.

There can be ways to detect a VPN in an office setting, and your employer may explicitly prohibit or block the use of VPNs. If this is the case, then the potential of being caught using a VPN may not be worth the risk. However, this will give employees the best security and privacy from their employers while on-site.

If a VPN is not an option at the office, then consider using your phone’s mobile data for any websites you don’t want your employer to see. VPNs can also be used on phones. So you’ll get all the average protections while avoiding your employer’s eyes, as employers can’t access history from mobile data.

It’s also important to note that while a VPN may encrypt your data from your employer through the router, this doesn’t completely protect your search history. Any search history that remains on the device will still be accessible.

So, if you’re using a company device at the office, your search history is still visible even with a VPN. Therefore, you’ll need to take the proper precautions to delete any search history in addition to the VPN to truly hide internet activity from your employer.

Google

Over the years, Google seems to grow only more powerful. With every rollout of a product, they seem to take over that much more of our lives. With such a powerful company, the idea of all your information going straight to their databases is a little scary.

The good news is that just because you use Google products doesn’t mean you need to give away all your data. While a VPN can’t hide everything from Google, it hides a lot more than not having any protection at all.

What does a VPN hide from Google exactly? Let’s take a closer look.

With a VPN, Google won’t see your true IP address. This means that personalized ads that are based on your IP address won’t appear while browsing. The downside is that an IP address isn’t the only tool Google uses for identifying its customers. For example, being logged into a Google account will mean that Google still knows that it’s you.

But a Google account isn’t the only tracking method this company has in place. With all the money that advertisers are willing to pay, Google has invested in some of the most sophisticated algorithms to identify what their users are looking for. They will use every piece of data they can get to find the right analytics and personalized ads.

Alternatives to Google

Since we know that the answer to “What does a VPN hide from Google?” doesn’t do much for your online privacy, it’s worth considering some alternatives to Google. If you want your search engine in the dark about your habits online, here are some different options that collect less information for users’ privacy:

  • DuckDuckGo
  • Ecosia
  • Tor (The Onion Router)

Are VPNs the Same as Private Browsers?

Maybe you want all the privacy a VPN provides, but you’re not ready to purchase one for your devices. In that case, it’s tempting to consider alternatives.

Unfortunately, VPNs provide a specific service, and they do a great job doing it. So while you can find a cheap VPN, completely free services probably aren’t providing the security you’re looking for. For example, consider private browsers.

A private browser is a service provided by most browsers. This is a browser that functions much like its normal browser. It’s “private” in that it won’t save your search history, passwords, or browsing to your device. This means that if someone gets on the same device and goes to your browser, they can’t see where you’ve been.

While this may be enough for teens trying to prevent their parents from seeing their internet browsing, this is not the security that most people think a private browser provides. Every click in a private browser goes straight to your ISP, router, and boss. Your IP address is open to everyone at your local coffee shop. Researchers even find that all their security claims may not give a full and accurate picture of what is truly protected.

If you don’t want your family to see your holiday shopping for them on the shared computer, a private browser is great. However, if you want true privacy and security when you browse online, a VPN is the right tool to use.

Selecting the Right VPN

Not every provider is created equal. When it comes to VPNs, it’s worth shopping around for quality options. You want a VPN that proves to be reliable and secure. Don’t settle for the first one you find.

Here’s how to select the best one for you.

1. Determine What You Need a VPN For

The first step to selecting the right VPN is deciding what you need it for. Different types will provide for needs. Here are the types you can choose from:

  • Remote Access. This type of VPN is best for personal use because it allows the user to connect to a remote server.
  • Client-to-Provider. Instead of a private tunnel from a device to a remote server, this connects devices directly to a VPN server rather than the ISP. This way, data is already encrypted by the VPN that is provided to a device. This is common for public Wi-Fi spots.
  • Site-to-site. For businesses with multiple offices, information sharing is essential but risky. By using a site-to-site VPN, the private tunnel runs between local networks and is the server for the other.

2. Know Where the VPN Is Located

Because not all providers will have the same level of security, speed, and reliability, you want to know what to look for. One key characteristic you’ll want to look for is whether a provider is located in a country that spies on citizens. This will include any countries that belong to the Five Eyes Alliance. It is also best to avoid countries in the Nine Eyes or Fourteen Eyes.

These countries either spy directly on their citizens or have alliances with another country to send citizens’ data in the name of intelligence and security. These are the countries from the three different alliances to avoid:

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • New Zealand
  • Australia
  • France
  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • The Netherlands
  • Belgium
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Spain
  • Sweden

3. Know What Devices Are Compatible

Most providers will cover your laptop or desktop. But only certain ones will also protect your televisions, phones, and other devices. Know what devices you want to be covered and whether your provider will cover them.

4. Consider the Services Provided

Each provider will prioritize different factors. For example, some providers will focus on speed while others prioritize anonymity. Look at what each service offers, and consider which best fits your needs.

5. Look at Reviews

If a VPN’s customers have had problems with the product and customer service, then it’s likely that you will have similar issues. You want something that is reliable with excellent customer service. Look for reviews that reflect that level of professionalism.

6. Look for a Money-Back Guarantee

No matter how much research you do, it’s possible that you won’t find the perfect VPN for you the first time. Instead of finding yourself stuck with the first provider you try, look for those with a money-back guarantee, so you can give another one a shot.

Are VPNs the Only Way to Be Secure Online?

It’s not just about “what does a VPN hide” that will keep you secure online. As we’ve mentioned, they hide a lot, but not everything. You may still be exposed to security threats even with this protection installed.

Luckily, there are many other things you can do to protect yourself online. So even once you’ve installed and turned on your VPN, check out these other factors of safety precautions, and make sure you’ve checked every item off the list.

Install Virus Protection

While a VPN can encrypt your data, this doesn’t protect your devices from viruses. If you download a virus in an attachment or go to a website with a virus, you are still vulnerable. While a VPN can protect your privacy, it doesn’t protect your device completely.

Even if the answer to “what does a VPN hide” is your data, this doesn’t mean you’re completely safe from hackers.

Strengthen Unique Passwords

A VPN is a great way to keep our passwords safe. But if you use a password on a device that isn’t protected or it is too easy to guess, a VPN can’t help. Make sure you have strong passwords that are difficult to guess. Also, use unique passwords so that even if one is compromised, you are safe on other accounts.

In addition to passwords, two-factor authentication is a great way to keep your online accounts safe.

Final Thoughts

If you’re wondering, “what does a VPN hide?” then there’s good news: VPNs hide a lot. By encrypting your data, a VPN will keep your location, IP address, search history, and personal history from your ISP, router, and possibly even your browser.

A VPN can give freedom to internet users across the world and give privacy to everyone. And for those who don’t want their data to be sold to marketing agencies, privacy is crucial. It is much stronger than other tactics for online security, such as private browsers, and it will keep you safe and secure as you freely browse.

Just keep in mind the factors we listed above for what makes a private and secure VPN. Otherwise, you may end up with a product that’s not as hidden as you think.

 

Featured image 2056924214 used under license with shutterstock.com by NicoElNino