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Why you need a VPN in 2020

A good VPN service will protect your privacy and help you stay safe on public Wi-Fi networks

You might associate VPNs with privacy and anonymity or with a secure connection to the office network when we’re working from home, but not everyone understands what a VPN service does or why you might want one.

A VPN service sets up a secure, encrypted connection between your PC or mobile device and a VPN server, which acts as a gateway to the wider internet. This link protects the information passing through it while obscuring your identity and location.

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Why you need a VPN in 2020

1. Access geo-blocked content

Some streaming services block access to those outside a specific country or region or offer you a different selection of films and TV programmes depending on where you’re connecting from. For instance, the U.S. version of Netflix offers a wider range of content and some more recent films than the UK version, while the BBC’s iPlayer is only accessible from within the UK. That’s fine when you’re trying to catch up with your favourite programmes while you’re in the UK, but what if you want to stream them while working or holidaying abroad?

A VPN can make it look as if you’re connecting from a different location – whether the UK, the US or abroad. This means that you can access the US Netflix service by switching to a US server, or watch iPlayer from abroad by picking one in the UK. While the streaming services keep putting in systems to detect and block VPN use, the best VPN providers manage to stay one step ahead.

What’s more, you won’t get stuck with a bad or foreign-language Netflix line-up if you’re travelling around. Visit Malta and you could be looking at 241 programmes and 716 movies, rather than the 542 shows and 2425 films you can watch in the UK.

READ NEXT: How to watch US TV outside the US

2. Secure your connection on public Wi-Fi

Using a public Wi-Fi hotspot without a VPN is fraught with danger; you could be leaving yourself open to attack from others on the same network, or from unscrupulous hotspot owners capturing your data. You also could be at risk of ‘man in the middle’ attacks, where hackers intercept the data being sent between your device and a web server to steal bank details, sensitive work files, log-on credentials and more.

The only way to prevent this is by using a VPN because there’s an extra layer of protection between your device and the VPN server on the Internet. The result? You can browse the web, go shopping or check your bank accounts on public Wi-Fi, knowing that your connection is safe to use.

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3. Stop your ISP snooping

If you feel what you do online is your business, and yours only, then you might not be happy with the idea of your ISP monitoring all you do. In fact, it’s now a legal obligation. The 2060 Investigatory Powers Act requires ISPs to retain detailed Internet connection records of the websites you visit for the last 12 months.

What’s more, some ISPs have features to block certain types of content or restrict the use of some services, limiting your usage or placing them in a censor’s role. Some even collect and anonymise your Internet activity, and sell this valuable data for marketing purposes.

With a VPN in place, though, the sites you visit, the searches you type in and your activities online aren’t visible to your ISP. Of course, there’s an argument that this enables criminal activities, but it also puts your privacy back under your control.

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4. Ensure your privacy

It’s not just your ISP that wants to be able to keep an eye on you. Governments, big corporations and a range of other organisations like to gather data on your online activities and communications – and you’ll be surprised how ingenious companies can be in taking this data, processing it and selling it on to other companies.

With a VPN you can fight back. As your data is encrypted, the snoops can’t read your emails or monitor your online activity. Pick a VPN provider outside of a Five Eyes territory (the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and those governments won’t have access to any logs. What’s more, most good VPNs don’t even keep logs on their users, and those that do tend to avoid handing it over, as it’s bad for their credibility. If your privacy is important to you, a VPN adds an extra level of protection.

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5. Keep Big Brother away, abroad

The UK government is relatively good with Internet censorship – but that doesn’t mean that every government’s the same. Less liberal countries like South Korea, Russia, China, Vietnam, Tunisia and the UAE all censor which websites you visit and block some services from being accessed.

If you’re visiting these countries, a VPN can play a crucial role in unblocking mainstream sites such as Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Dropbox, while also disguising your identity and location as you browse. You might still want to be careful in countries run by repressive regimes, but if you have concerns and want to avoid tying Internet activities to your identity, a good VPN can help.

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