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Do you sometimes feel monitored when you are online? Perhaps your feeling is not deceiving you, because no one is completely private on the internet these days. The desire for anonymity is growing, and with it a market that promises to deliver just that. We are talking about VPN services. Virtual private network (VPN) providers promise secure surfing, anonymity and privacy on the internet. With a VPN service, you disguise your IP address and thereby hide your true online identity.
But the cloak of invisibility has another advantage. With a VPN, you can circumvent geoblocking of streaming services, i.e. artificial country blocks with which streaming services determine the availability of their content according to selected regions. With the right VPN provider, you can access the foreign media libraries of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video & Co. and watch exclusive films and series even before they come to Germany. Conversely, you can watch German television abroad without restrictions, stream sporting events in other countries live for free and much more.
VPN is the abbreviation for Virtual Private Network. A VPN encrypts all data traffic in real time, hides your IP address - the unique identification number on the internet - from third parties and thus disguises your online identity. In short: with a VPN you protect your digital privacy.
The way a VPN works is quickly explained. You get special software from your provider that you install on your device (PC, smartphone, tablet, etc.), the so-called VPN client. The client now connects to its counterpart, the VPN server, and sets up an encrypted tunnel over the internet where the data traffic takes place. The providers make corresponding servers available all over the world. You don't have to do anything other than select the desired location, the VPN service takes care of the rest on its own.
The cloaking connection thus makes it difficult for third parties to follow your tracks on the internet and steal your data.
With a VPN, however, you do not secure 100 percent anonymity. Although it is considerably more difficult to establish your identity with a VPN connection, it is usually not completely impossible. This is because data always accumulates at various points when surfing the internet: Tracing such traces back to a specific person is immensely time-consuming - but still feasible.
Data at the provider's: If you use an encrypted VPN access that exchanges your own IP address in the further course, you provide your internet provider with information about when you use which service. Even if it is not possible to trace what the user is doing on the internet with a VPN, there are said to be secret services that become suspicious just because a surfer is on the net via VPN services - true to the motto: anyone who disguises their activity must have something to hide.
Data while surfing: The VPN server does disguise the unique IP address. But there are many other identification features that are less clear individually, but in combination are quite treacherous. These include, above all, so-called OS and browser fingerprinting. This is meta-information such as the operating system used, browser versions and settings as well as window sizes. If you want to disguise such data, you need additional software.
Almost all providers claim that they do not store any user data. Many services advertise that they do not store log files. From a technical point of view, this is hardly possible and therefore implausible. However, not all data collected is bad per se: some providers point out that they do collect data such as timestamps or bandwidth, but only for statistical purposes in order to better manage their service. In this way, certain access peaks can be better recognised and the server load better distributed as a result.