VPNs : Your Online Location and Privacy

 

A VPN is a 'Virtual Private Network'.

They have various uses, but what matters for the home user is : privacy and internet location.

 

Firstly -

here is a diagram showing how your PC connects you to the internet :

Your PC connects to your modem, which connects to the server at your ISP (Internet Service Provider) - as indicated by the green lines above - indicating this connection as far as the ISP's server is not part of the internet itself.

The server at the ISP connects you to the actual internet - through the blue line above.

 

Problem 1 : Your Metadata

Some countries (e.g. Australia) require ISPs to record and store your metadata for two years, as shown by the red line above. Your metadata (from Greek meta = different) means the address and time/date of every web-site you visit - but not the actual contents (data) of the web-pages, or your password entries etc., nor any other type of data used by other programs.

This metadata allows the government to investigate your web-site history if you later come to their attention. Of course, these huge databases recording every web-site visit by every internet user are extremely valuable, and hopefully confidential - because they can also be a considerable intrusion into your privacy.

 

Problem 2 : Your Internet (WWW) Location

Note the red circle where the ISP connects you to the internet - this is your WWW location on the internet - the actual location will be the suburb, or city, of your ISP. Your internet location is visible to the whole internet, along with your IP address (the specific internet address allocated to you), and also the name and version of your web browser.

You can check what address and location you are showing to the internet by using a site such as this one :

What is My IP Address .com

 

Example : My Internet Location

Here is what that page shows for me at my home in Perth, Western Austalia :

Everyone can see my city, but no closer.

 

Geo-Blocking

The problem with this is that some web-sites are restricted to certain countries - that's called 'geo-blocking'. HBONow e.g. is only available in the USA.

 

Internet Using a VPN

Now here is a diagram of how a VPN is used to connect you to the internet :

With a VPN, you have a private (non-WWW) connection all the way to the server at the VPN's ISP - which can be anywhere in the world - shown by the green lines. This private connection to the VPN's ISP is just program data - not web-sites - so your ISP doesn't record it.

Your effective WWW connection to the internet occurs through the blue line at the location of the VPN's ISP - the red circle again - so this time, it can be anywhere.

 

VPN Location Choices

Most VPNs provide servers at various locations around the world. Here is an example of some choices available with NordVPN :

I will connect to USA as an example, it takes only a few seconds to change location.

 

Example : My Internet Location with VPN

Having connected to the USA through my VPN, here is what now shows as my location :

As far as the WWW knows, I am located in the USA now.

 

Metadata not collected by VPN

Because the connection to the WWW occurs at the VPN's ISP, that is where metadata must be collected. But VPN ISPs are not generally bound to collect metadata, and they don't.

 

Summary - Why use a VPN ?

There are two benefits :

  1. avoiding having your metadata collected and stored
  2. changing your internet location to avoid geo-blocking

 

Cost and legality ?

A VPN may cost around $50 a year.

It is entirely legal.

 

by Kapyong

 


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Legal: The author Kapyong asserts all rights under all applicable laws.

Readers MAY reproduce parts of this work PROVIDED attribution is given to Kapyong AND a link to this page is given.