Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are all the rage it seems, with various providers sponsoring everything from YouTube channels to podcast networks. The adverts tell you that they will protect your security and let you stream more content from around the world, and whilst this may be true you do still need to be careful to choose a reputable VPN provider and check the terms and conditions of your favourite streaming platforms.

Check on your security

VPNs work by creating an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the websites and web services you are visiting so that in theory nobody can see what you are doing online, not even your internet service provider (ISP). There are good reasons to hide your web usage, whether it is to get around political censorship or poorly designed content filters, or even just for a general sense of digital privacy. However, it needs to be said that whilst VPNs can hide your actions from your ISP, it does mean that instead they may be able to see your online movements.

It is a truism of the internet that if the service is free then you are the product, and that rings particularly true with free VPNs which will collect data and sell it on to advertisers, with some bad actors even injecting ads into your browsing experience. If you do decide to use a VPN then, it is critical to choose one that has had its security practices independent audited and a practice of zero logs.

How to stream more content

There has never been a better time to find entertainment online. There are a wealth of streaming services available around the world today, from the big boys like Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime, to services dedicated to documentaries, classic films, audiobooks, and more. And new services are seemingly popping up every week.

Whilst these streaming platforms may be global, complex licensing agreements mean that the content they have on offer in each territory may vary wildly along with their pricing – and this is where VPNs can help you get the most out of your monthly fees. VPNs let you mask your location by tunnelling your data through servers in another country, so that to Netflix or another streaming service a UK user could appear like they are watching House of Cards or Orange is the New Black from the US, Brazil, Turkey, or anywhere else they have servers.

The top VPN providers have servers in dozens of countries around the world and let you select which one you want to appear like you are browsing from when you connect, and that means a wealth of different geo-restricted content libraries you can have access to. Netflix and other major streaming providers are aware of this “trick” and the last few years has been a long game of cat and mouse between these providers blocking VPN access and VPN services finding new ways around their blocks. Most streaming platforms also do rule out VPN use in their terms and conditions, so anyone trying to get around their regional restrictions does so at their own risk and their VPN could be blocked anytime, but we have not heard of Netflix cancelling anyone’s account for VPN use yet.

How to get better deals

Many businesses vary their pricing by location, with the general consensus that those in developed countries can and will pay more for broadly the same services as those in developing nations where incomes are generally lower. This means that streaming services like Netflix or Spotify may cost as like as £1-£3 per month in locations like Turkey or the Philippines compared to £10+ per month in the UK. After jumping through several hoops and paying with a no-fee foreign transaction card like Monzo or Starling, some people have managed to get these prices via a VPN.

Whilst streaming services are making such tricks ever more difficult, other businesses do not have any such restrictions and simply by using a VPN to switch countries you can save yourself hundreds of pounds. Some airlines for example will show two completely different prices to those that book a return flight from the UK to India if you book with a UK IP address or an Indian one, even though you will be on the same aeroplane. And various cloud and software services also offer different prices for people from different locations which is determined only by IP address.

You can stay secure, watch a wider selection of shows, and save money with a VPN – just beware of breaching any T&Cs when you do so.

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