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Virtual private networks (or VPNs) are great for protecting your privacy and data while you browse the web. They provide increased security on public Wi-Fi networks (coffee shops, airports, etc), and prevent ISPs from collecting personal data, data they want to sell to advertisers. VPNs are also pretty good at letting users circumvent location-based content restrictions put in place by companies like YouTube, Spotify and Netflix. While they're not foolproof, here's how to pick a VPN, and boost your chance of enjoying Game Of Thrones without paying Foxtel a dime.
Pick a Proper VPN
Your VPN of choice should provide you with increased security by employing an encrypted connection, otherwise known as a VPN tunnel. You should choose a VPN that features multiple servers and access points located around the world. If your VPN includes choices in countries abroad, then it will be easier for you to pretend you're browsing the web from a different location. If you want to enjoy some UK-based content, for example, selecting a server based in the United Kingdom can trick whatever service you're using into thinking you're right in the heart of jolly old England, and display the proper British baking program.
The popular VPN provider UFlix recently announced it will no longer support foreign Netflix access following a spike in geo-blocking measures from the streaming giant. If you were a UFlix customer, this means you no longer have access to Netflix's extensive US library of movies and TV shows. Thankfully, there's one VPN provider that still appears to be working.
Some VPNs keep logs of your browsing activity -- a problem for privacy-conscious VPN users, or those engaging in some...light piracy. When picking a VPN, look for one that doesn't keep records of your data. Free VPNs might be attractive, but they're also more likely to keep logs of your online activity, as well as show you ads based on your browsing habits. This isn't great if you want to remain anonymous. Even if you pay for your VPN subscription, and even if they claim to offer a log-free service, be sure to read their privacy and data retention policy to ensure they're not keeping any records of your activity.
You should also double-check user reviews to see which VPNs suffer from security flaws, like leaking your supposedly encrypted IP addresses. You can also run your own test using What Is My IP Address to compare your IP addresses before and after you connect to your VPN provider. Getting the same IP address? Pick a new VPN.
Prep Your Browser
Some VPNs offer browser extensions that let you enable your VPN and select your server from the browser itself. Providers like NordVPN and Private Internet Access (PIA) also provide smartphone apps so you can encrypt your Internet connection on your iOS or Android device without making modifications to devices like your router, or going VPN-free on a public network.
You might have to take a few more steps, however, if you're trying to game the system. Your browser is probably storing enough information about you to throw a wrench in your content-viewing plans, leaving you frustrated or confused. Having trouble watching that Japanese YouTube music video? Try clearing your browser's cache, which dumps identifying data like cookies and browsing history.
Remember, No VPN Is Perfect
Any VPN worth its salt encrypts your browsing data and obfuscates your IP address using servers based in different locations around the world. Some services, like Netflix, are pretty adamant about stopping VPN use with its streaming service. They do so by blocking IP addresses found to be associated with VPN providers, so even if you do use a VPN and connect to a US server, if your IP address is on Netflix's list, you won't get far without being redirected or shut out entirely until you shut down your VPN.
To combat Netflix's crackdown on VPNs, certain VPNs employ tactics to still allow users to watch region-restricted content. NordVPN (my personal preference), based in Panama, uses servers that change IP addresses frequently, making it harder for services to recognise which IP addresses belong to VPN users, or servers providing VPN access points. They also rely on smaller servers that are less likely to be associated with VPN user access points. Unfortunately, no VPN service is bulletproof.
I imagine that upon first accessing the US Netflix library, most Australians begin to belt out the classic Aladdin jam “A Whole New World” - it truly is like stepping into an alternate, content-filled universe of TV and movies. Unfortunately, since Netflix cracked down on VPNs at the beginning of 2016, its been much harder to access the US library, but fret not! Here’s some reliable VPNs that will grant you a golden ticket to Netflix-and-chill-ville.