Who Wants To Discourage VPN Usage?

New Interest in VPN

In light of the recent Senate’s decision to reverse the FCC’s privacy rule for Internet Service Providers, the public has became considerably more interested in VPNs. Many people care about their online privacy and they are definitely not interested in their browsing data being shared and sold to the highest bidder. Naturally, what follows is a search for some way to prevent the ISP from logging your full browsing history and your online activities.

Using a VPN is one of the best measures for avoiding ISP logging and surveillance. All your traffic gets encrypted and is routed through the VPN server, rendering ISP logging useless. The next question is then, which VPN to choose? It’s not easy when the VPN market offers literally hundreds of competing VPN services with many of them making superlative claims about their quality.

Here, the mainstream tech media gets into the picture. The tech media outlets have rushed to publish VPN stories and guides, allegedly trying to help their readers to make an educated choice.

However, an interesting pattern has emerged. A reddit user /u/malum_machina noticed that multiple media outlets owned by cable companies had published negative stories about VPNs. In other words, these same ISPs who stand to gain from the FCC’s privacy rules reversal, are conducting a subtle propaganda campaign to discourage VPN usage. It is understandable, since VPN usage hurts the ISPs profit – they will have less data to sell. Naturally, they’d try to paint a negative image of VPNs in the minds of the readers who are trying to learn about the topic for the first time.

Here are the offenders that the reddit user noticed:

Engadget: https://www.engadget.com/2017/04/07/good-luck-finding-a-safe-vpn/

Engadget is owned by AOL, which is turn owned by Verizon – the 4th largest ISP in the US.

Lifehacker: http://lifehacker.com/the-biggest-amisconceptions-about-vpns-1794038237

Gizmodo: http://gizmodo.com/how-to-hide-your-browsing-history-from-your-snooping-is-1793687193

Lifehacker and Gizmodo are owned by Univision Communications, a large US media company, whose profits come mostly from selling content to cable companies (who are also ISPs). Obviously, they’re interested in their partners’ profitability. The more customers’ data a cable broadband provider can sell, the more Univision content they can buy.

Wired: https://www.wired.com/2017/03/vpns-wont-save-congress-internet-privacy-giveaway/

Wired is owned by Condé Nast, which in turn is owned by Advance Publications. Advance Publications is a major stake holder in Charter Communications, the owner of Time Warner Cable cable ISP (also known as Spectrum Internet).

The Verge: http://www.theverge.com/2017/3/25/15056290/vpn-isp-internet-privacy-security-fcc-repeal

The Verge is owned by Vox Media, a company in which Comcast (the ISP that we all love) has already invested $200 Million

What we see is cable broadband providers discouraging the public from using VPNs in order to keep their profits.

What Anti-VPN Arguments Are Used?

  1. A major argument appearing in all of these stories is that it’s so hard to find a good VPN, and “even the experts cannot agree on a good one”. Like all good persuasion, this is partially true. The VPN market is full of shady operators and in many cases it’s hard to find out any real data about a given VPN vendor.However, is it really that hard to find a good VPN? Nope. Just do a bit of research on the VPN vendor’s reputation and history. For instance, we recommend the Freedome VPN because it is operated by F-Secure, a Finnish company with 25 years of proven history in cybersecurity. Nobody has ever implicated them in selling their customers’ data or other shady stuff and it’s easy to find out who is behind the company. They’re transparent. And Freedome is not the only good VPN providers, there at least a dozen of others with good reputation.

  2. “Your VPN provider can sell your data in exactly the same manner as your ISP can.”
    That’s true as well, but again, a company like F-Secure hasn’t got to where they are by betraying the customers’ trust. Of course, a fly-by-night VPN operator or a vendor that offers “free VPN” will happily sell your data. But you don’t really have to choose these. Again, 5 minutes of googling will tell you all you need to know. A successful VPN service with a long history and many paying customers will not risk it’s hard-gained reputation just to get a bit more profit. For an ISP, though, you’re usually a captive audience. Even if you know that they log you, it’s difficult to switch to an alternative one, and even then, the alternative ISP will sell your data all the same.

  3. “VPNs are difficult to use.”
    This is a somewhat laughable argument. All the good VPN providers have a point-and-click installer, which is not more complicated than installing anything else on your device. Then you get a fat button that connects/disconnects you to/from a VPN. Don’t treat your readers like idiots, please.

  4. “You won’t be able to watch Netflix while using a VPN.”
    That’s what the disconnect button is for. Disconnect from your VPN before watching Netflix, then connect again. Problem solved.

  5. “VPN will not protect you from ad tracking.”
    It’s not the VPN’s job to protect you from ad tracking. Use one of the dozen available tools for that. Or use Freedome VPN, because it integrates a tracker blocker into the product.

  6. “Just roll your own VPN on a rented server.”
    This is my favorite argument. Multiple media outlets praise the wonders of rolling your own VPN on a server that you rent from a hosting company, like Digital Ocean. Not only that it’s about 1000 times more complicated than installing a commercial VPN on your device with a few clicks, your traffic will be also easier to spy on – because you will be the only one using your private VPN. Using a VPN that you’ve rolled out yourself is cool – no denying that – but it’s not really a solution ready to be embraced by the general public.

Looking at the arguments in these stories, it is easy to see that they are mostly truthful, but are subtly engineered to paint a negative image of VPNs as something which is complicated and cannot really be trusted. At the end of the day, the media outlets want you to trust the ISPs who owns them.

No Doom and Gloom

Don’t fall for the media doom and gloom regarding VPNs. It’s not difficult to use a VPN. It’s not difficult to find a VPN vendor that you can trust with just a few minutes of research. Obviously, we should use common sense and not to trust free products (“if the product is free, you’re the product”) or fall for some ridiculous scams, but that applies to everything.

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