Writing for the New York Times, Brian X. Chen makes the case that it’s time to stop paying for VPNs.
Virtual private networks (VPN) are popular tools people use to protect their privacy online. Theoretically, a VPN masks a person’s activity by routing their traffic through the VPN’s network. As a result, it’s much more difficult for third parties to track a person’s movement online. The individual’s ISP can’t see what websites they’re visiting, and the websites can’t easily track their activity.
Unfortunately, the world of VPNs can be among the most mysterious and opaque in the software industry. Many companies’ ownership is obscured, making it difficult for customers to have any real sense of accountability. Still others engage in activities and practices that are questionable at best — such as ExpressVPN knowingly hiring a former US intelligence operative that worked as a hacker-for-hire for the United Arab Emirates.
Even worse, as Chen points out, a number of high-profile and popular VPN services have been purchased by shady companies. Kape Technologies is one such company, and has been accused of developing malware by Google and the University of California. Unfortunately, Kape has bought CyberGhost VPN, Zenmate and ExpressVPN, the latter a service that routinely receives high scores and recommendations from a slew of publications.
Chen makes the case that the current state of the web, where the vast majority of websites are using HTTPS, makes VPNs unnecessary for most users. In addition, for Apple users, iCloud Private Relay is specifically designed to provide a layer privacy, although it doesn’t truly compete with a VPN.
As Chen points out, there are some situations where a VPN is useful, specifically when a user needs to mask their location in order to access certain content.
All-in-all, Chen’s piece is a thought-provoking look at an industry that, while once invaluable, may no longer be meeting the vast majority of its users’ needs.