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How and why you should use a VPN to protect your data's final mile

Glenn Fleishman | Jan. 19, 2015
Virtual private networks (VPNs for hire) are cheap and very easy to use on your Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

TunnelBear has a slightly different approach. In iOS, you can purchase nonrecurring passes that work only in iOS, not across platforms, from $3 (one month) to $30 (one year) with unlimited data. Via the website, you can sign up for a free plan that includes 500MB per month, or for unlimited data across up to three devices for $5 per month (recurring) or $50 per year (either recurring or for a single year).

The fees might seem high, but every VPN service is paying not just for servers and the overhead of staff and the like, but the bandwidth you consume: Every gigabyte you send through a VPN is one gigabyte inbound (which is often cheap or free) and one gigabyte outbound (about 5 to 10 cents per GB). Some users will consume 50GB a month; others a trickle.

There's one more trick up the sleeve of VPNs: They can let you seem to be accessing a service from a country other than the one in which you currently occupy. This is useful to evade certain per-country licensing limitations on free and subscription online streaming and other services. Simply select a destination country in TunnelBear or Cloak, and when you connect, your VPN connects to a server at a data center in one of those lands.

The ethics of such workarounds can be problematic, but VPNs are so popular that Netflix reportedly has tens of millions of subscribers who live outside of regions in which they offer their paid streaming service. In that case, one is skirting licensing rules. More iffy is, perhaps, using BBC's iPlayer, which streams programs free to UK residents who pay television licenses and taxes used to subsidize production. Eventually, all national licensing barriers will have to fall because of such absurdities, but consult your internal ethical compass.

While the amount of stuff you need to protect has shrunk enormously in the last few years, with Facebook and Twitter encrypting by default, and Google and others upping their game, a VPN still buys you peace of mind. No matter what a website or other service does, you've locked down the part of the Internet you can't control happening physically around or near you.

 

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