Hey, let’s play a game: I’ll hand out copies of your bank balance to all your officemates! After that, I’ll train a camera on your closet, and then post some pictures of you getting dressed! Oh, hey, and maybe later I’ll read your diary on Periscope. What a fun day we’ll have!
I’m guessing you don’t think that sounds like a good time. And yet it’s just like what’s happening to each of us every day. Our Google searches, emails, browser history, and geo-location are collected by companies that make big money off of all of our intimate details. It’s all happening quietly in the background, so as not to disturb our digital lives, and it’s all legal thanks to that box we clicked when asked if we read the Terms & Conditions. (You totally read those right? Umhmm….)
Paranoid worries of being spied on used to be stuff of crazy people who drew their shades and made tinfoil hats. But these days if you’re not concerned (I mean, deeply concerned) about your privacy online, you’re the one who’s crazy. Because aside from the aforementioned data collection that’s happening above board, criminals, hackers and security breaches are also a legitimate concern— I had to change my credit card number three times last year due to fraud, and who knows how many of those breaches happened online.
I knew enough not to surf using Public Wifi, or enter my credit card information into a non-secure site, but what other steps could I take if I really wanted to protect myself? Right around the same time I started researching VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), F-Secure reached out to me to write this post about its VPN product, Freedome. So I was thrilled to partner with them and share my experience of using the Freedome VPN as a way to shield myself from the predators— legal and otherwise— of online life.
How to use it
I was a little unsure what was involved before I used a VPN for the first time. But it’s as easy as installing a piece of software, and then pushing a button. In seconds, the program connects with one of it’s servers in a far flung location (you can choose, or let it choose for you), and that’s it. It’s now re-routing your browsing to somewhere else in the world, so your location and web surfing are kept under wraps, and encrypting all your activity, so you’re wearing an invisibility cloak while you surf the web.
Freedome’s annual plans are simple: For $49.99/year, you can protect three devices (great for protecting a tablet, laptop and phone); $59.99 protects five devices and $79.99 protects seven. And given that it works on Macs, PCs, Windows machines and phones, Android and iOS, you’re pretty much covered no matter what you own. I also love that, unlike other plans, it boasts unlimited bandwidth, so I don’t have to stress about how much I’m surfing or streaming— it just works in the background and I can get on with what I’m doing online.
I’ve spent the last week doing all my surfing, on my phone and laptop, through Freedome’s VPN. Here’s what happened:
Advertising Ghost Town
You know when you’re eyeing a killer pair of boots online and you decide not to pull the trigger, but then they follow you all around the web in ad banners that try to lure you back? Yeah, no more of that with VPNs. Because you’re browsing anonymously, ad trackers can’t see your window shopping and can’t tempt you with those pesky ad banners. In fact, so many ad banners simply disappeared from my browsing experience, it was kind of like being at the mall before it opens… it creepily quiet, but oh so nice!
You want a piece of me?
We all have our heads in the sand when it comes to just how many trackers are collecting data about us online. But you’ll have your eyes opened when you seeFreedome’s cool (and sobering) Tracker Mapper, which makes a nifty diagram of all the businesses that want to know what you’re up to. Behold, a diagram of one 24-hour period. Scary.
Privacy in Public Places
Normally, I refrain from using public Wifi if I can help it. And if I must use it (like at a hotel, or on an airplane), I don’t do anything sensitive like log into my banking website, or use my credit card. But since using the VPN, I’m taking advantage of public Wifi like never before— and my mobile data usage is lower as a result. If you don’t have an unlimited data plan, this is a boon— you can take advantage of the generosity of your local Starbucks, know that your activity is protected, and pay for less data.
Say what you will about Canada being the 51st state, but not when it comes to the Internet. Due to license issues and other geo-restrictions, I can’t watch a lot of YouTube, Hulu or Netflix content while I’m there. Next summer I won’t have any hassle: Because a VPN changes your virtual location (you can tell it to bounce your activity to any of its 25 servers all over the world) you route your web traffic through a server in the USA even when you’re somewhere else, lifting restrictions and making binge watching business as usual.
Bad Guy Shield
Using a VPN is like surfing the web on your own private network: So not only could ad servers not find me, but bad guys can’t either. I can rest assured that I’ve got protection from harmful sites, malicious apps and bad apples.
Thanks again to F-Secure for partnering on this post. Whether you use F-Secure’s Freedome or any other VPN, you’ll be surfing the web clad in armor and secrecy— free to do what you like and do it safely and privately.
So, um… after this, wanna make a Starbucks run in your underwear? Okay, you get it.