A VPN can stop internet companies from selling your data — but it’s not a magic bullet
Earlier this week, Congress voted to repeal privacy measures that would stop internet service providers from sharing their users’ internet activity with third parties. Those rules were passed in October, but not only does this vote undo them, it prevents the FCC from reinstating similar rules in the future. This is great for broadband companies, but if you’re one of these companies’ users, what are you supposed to do?
One popular recommendation you might have heard is to use a virtual private network, or VPN. You can find a lot of comprehensive online explanations of what VPNs are, but in the simplest terms, they create a secure, encrypted connection between your computer (or phone, tablet, &c.) and a private server somewhere else, preventing anyone else from seeing or modifying that traffic. When you browse the internet, data goes to the server, which passes it securely back to you. When you send data out, it appears to come from the server, not your computer. While it doesn’t make you anonymous — the VPN can see your traffic, and law enforcement can request information from VPN companies — it obscures what you’re doing online.