What is a VPN?
So what is a VPN? That’s a question that people are asking more and more lately. And with good reason.
I’m not going to get into the technical details. If you’re interested in that, I’m sure there are lots of sites where you can get your nerd on.
Think of a VPN like a direct link to get from your device (computer, smartphone, TV box, etc.) to another server anywhere in the world. Many people use them professionally for logging in to their work network when working from home. VPN’s are, by definition, private which makes them popular for the professional road-warrior and remote worker.
Even if you’re not using it for work, VPN’s are still popular because they provide a greater level of anonymity than local connections. Think of a “local connection” as plugging your computer directly in to your router or cable modem. Basically, there’s nothing between you and your Internet provider.
The trouble with most local connections is that they essentially provide a big, flashing red beacon to your location to anyone who wants to know.
Don’t believe me? Check out IP-Tracker.org, which is one of many free sites which provide geo-tracking services based solely on your IP address.
What is a VPN?: An llustration
The best way I can think of to conceptually explain a VPN is to think of a huge underground tunnel, like this one in New York City. It’s so big, you can stand up in it and still feel small. That’s the Internet. That tunnel carries lots of “water”, but it’s not secure at all. The water, i.e. your data, can seep through the cracks or get contaminated from other things.
See those pipes on the left hand side? Those pipes go directly to one destination, and it’s very difficult for anything to get in or out of those pipes that doesn’t belong there. They’re used for things that are more important than the dirty water that’s running down the center of the tunnel. The stuff in those pipes (whatever it is), can’t risk being polluted by outside contaminants. In our example, those pipes are a VPN.
Both a VPN and your local Internet connection will get you to where you want to go. But a VPN makes sure that your data doesn’t get intercepted or polluted along the way.
Why use a VPN for Android TV boxes?
There are a couple of important reasons to use a VPN. At a high-level, you’re either looking to protect yourself or get around restrictions that someone else has put on your Internet activity. Even though we only use our TV boxes for streaming and maybe downloading torrents, you should still consider getting an Android VPN for your TV box.
It’s hard to think back to a time when we didn’t have to worry about privacy. Long before “Big Data” was a household phrase, our right to privacy was being assaulted on a daily basis. From traffic cameras to browser cookies, it seems we are giving up more and more of our personal information every day. Many people start thinking about using a VPN in the hopes of keeping some of that private information to themselves.
Anonymity goes hand-in-hand with privacy, but there are some important distinctions. You can think of Privacy as keeping control over your personal information. Anonymity is deliberately hiding, or obscuring, who you are. We can all take simple steps to anonymity, and most of us do. For example, I have a separate junk email address with a fake name and information. Parents with small children will sometimes create fake personas for their online or gaming activity. Why do we do this? Because marketers are getting more and more savvy, and learning more about us as consumers every day.
Nothing can make us truly anonymous on the Internet. But a good, secure VPN can go a long way to help.
VPN’s were originally designed to provide a secure connection to another network. As I said before, I use one when I’m working from home. My hardware VPN connects to my wireless router. When my work PC is within range, it automatically connects to the hardware VPN device and accesses my network at the office. To me, it’s just like I’m sitting at my desk.
You’re probably thinking: “Great…but this doesn’t affect me at all.”
Well, when’s the last time you connected to a public Wi-Fi?
Public Wi-Fi connections are hotspots (pun intended) for hackers and digital thieves. Using an Android VPN whenever you connect to public Wi-Fi is a great way to protect yourself.
This probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but big media companies have put limits on what we can watch based on where we live.
Some of the more common reasons they do this is to control access to certain shows so that some countries get it sooner than others. The BBC was one of the bigger culprits of this in recent years. Some series would air in the UK a full season before they aired in the US.
If you’re more of a sports fan, then geo-blocking has probably already affected you.
Think of the last time you wanted to watch your favorite team but couldn’t because the game was blacked out. Personally, this is my biggest reason for getting a VPN. If the game I want is blacked out in my local area (or country), I can hop on a different server and bypass those restrictions. Game on!
Let me be blunt: If you’re using one of the unofficial (and probably illegal) Kodi addons to stream your movies, and you’re not already using a VPN, you’re a fool.
I’m not here to judge your streaming habits – I don’t care. Right now, it seems that streaming is OK, but downloading is not. But that can change at any time. Personally I wouldn’t put much faith in the loophole that streaming movies is legal, as long as the files aren’t downloaded to your system.
Besides, there have been judgments that could change the streaming landscape significantly. Cox Cable, an ISP (Internet Service Providers) in the US was recently held liable for the copyright infringements of its subscribers. In the UK, they just instituted a 10-year prison sentence for online pirates – longer than some sentences for rape or murder.
The odds may be in your favor right now, but is that a chance you really want to take?
Important things to consider
Now that you’ve got a little bit of background on virtual private networks, I want to get some caveats out of the way. I think it’s important to understand my perspective so you can decide for yourself whether you want to take my advice. If you agree with how I’m looking at things, then keep reading. If not, you’re free to say that “this guy is nuts” and stop reading. My feelings won’t be hurt.
I’m Not a “Privacy Guy”
As strange as it might be for some people to believe, I’m not using a VPN because I’m concerned about privacy.
I’ve never cared to read George Orwell’s Ninteen-Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. I don’t look at all of the dystopian movies like Hunger Games or Minority Report and immediately get up in arms about a “Big Brother” style of government that is watching my every move. Personally, I’ve got more important things to worry about.
In the most recent study I could find, Americans use 18MB of data every single minute of the day. In my day job, I’m an analyst for a Fortune-100 company. I see the benefits of using data to make people’s lives easier, more relevant and more connected – not just to their devices, but to each other.
You may take your privacy very, very seriously. That’s OK, and I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t. But, please understand going forward, that’s not how I’m going to look at things.
Geo-Blocking and Freedom of Information
I may not care too much about privacy, but I believe very strongly in freedom of information.
The Internet was founded to share ideas across the world. But today, information is kept locked away behind man-made walls – only accessible to certain people.
To be clear, I’m not saying that everything should be “free” on the Internet. This is not an excuse for piracy. But, I believe that information that is available in one place in the world should be available in every place in the world.
It doesn’t matter if it is a political paper speaking out about an oppressive government, or a television show that can only be accessed in one particular country. Information should be accessible to everyone.
I want to say a couple quick words about affiliates, because you’ll see it a lot with VPN’s.
Most sites will use affiliate links, including mine. This can be OK or it can be a huge conflict of interests. It all depends on how the site handles it. Affiliate links are a way for website owners to actually cover the costs of operating a site. Affiliate sales don’t cost you anything extra as the consumer, but the owner of the site gets a small commission based on any sales that they refer.
In theory, you only put affiliate links for things that you’ve actually used and are honestly recommending. Sites that want to be honest with their readers will disclose that up front. That’s why on this site, there is a full disclosure page, as well as a brief affiliate disclosure at the bottom of every single page on the site. Go ahead. Scroll all the way down. I’ll wait.
Where this can go bad is if sites recommend things based on how much it will pay out and then call it a “review”. If you Google “VPN” you’ll see that the search results are littered with fake review sites that are nothing more than sales pages.
Use caution when you’re looking at these so-called VPN reviews. Look at the article and make sure that it reads like a review, not like a sleazy sales page.
So what Android VPN do I recommend?
This is the point in most of the articles that you’ll come across where the author will give his or her recommendations. “Here is the VPN that will solve all your problems”….blah blah blah.
All I can tell you is that I have tried 1/2 a dozen different VPN's and IPVanish VPN is the one that I settled on. It has a great price, easy interface and good speed. The most important item is that it is not based in the US.