Australian internet users increasingly reliant on VPNs – are they worth it?

VPN use is on the increase across the globe, but nowhere more so than in Australia. We will look at why that is in just a moment. The problem about VPNs is there is a lot of information – and even more misinformation – about them on the internet. Most of that comes from parties that have some interest in promoting one VPN or another, meaning you only get half the story.

Here, we will provide an unbiased guide to what VPNs are all about, why people use them and the pros and cons of doing so. Let’s clear up the misinformation one and for all and get a few things straight about VPNs.

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. That’s useful information if it happens to come up in a pub quiz, but that’s about all. To understand how a VPN works, you need to have a basic concept of how the internet works. When you go online you do so from a local network – typically that will comprise the devices attached to your internet router. The internet is just another network, albeit a much larger one.

You gather information from the internet, but that information flow can be a two way street. Websites also gather information about you. That’s how you get those tailored ads suddenly appearing, giving the sometimes chilling impression that the internet knows where you are and what you’ve been searching for.

Now we can start to appreciate what a virtual private network is all about. It provides a buffer between your local network and the internet. Not only does it protect your data, it can also spoof your location. Let’s say you connect to the internet from Fremantle in Western Australia. Internet signals communicate between data centers. So if you connect to a website in New Jersey, USA, the signal will point from Newark ,NJ and your local data center, which would be Perth, Western Australia. A VPN will route your signal to some other location so the site will assume that is where you are located.

Why do so many Australians use VPNs?

With a clear understanding of what a VPN is and what it does, we can see the potential benefits. The VPN helps to protect your personal data and can prevent third parties from gathering information about you and your online activities. If you value your privacy, that can be reason enough to use a VPN. As well as preventing routine information-gathering, a VPN can be an effective defense against the practice of credential stuffing, where cybercriminals hack personal login details and passwords from your private network.

The most common reason, however, is concerned with geo-locations. We will look at an obvious example in a moment, but in general terms, some websites are blocked from being accessed in certain geographies. Using a VPN can circumvent these blocks. There are also instances when products and services marketed online are priced differently for different markets, so you might want to access the site from the country that gets the most favorable prices!

Gambling at an online casino with a VPN

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Online casino gaming has surged in popularity among Australian casino players over the past couple of years. However, their use is discouraged by the gambling regulator and around 700 blocking orders have been issued to online casino sites caught targeting the Australian market.

You don’t need to be an IT genius to see that there is an obvious temptation to use a VPN when using an online casino site from a country like Australia. Generally, this is not recommended. The best Australian online pokies for real money are to be found at online casino platforms that take security seriously. They carry out due diligence and if your payment details are registered in Australia and your IP address says you are in the UK or Singapore, things will start to get complicated.

Using a VPN is legal, so you would not be breaking the law, but for the reasons mentioned above, it is inadvisable to use a VPN to mask your location when playing online casino games. That’s one potential downside to VPNs. What about other cons?

Other downsides to using a VPN

We have seen several benefits to using a VPN, both from a data security perspective and in relation to geo blocking or geo pricing. However, those benefits come at a cost.

If you have ever tried using a VPN before, you will be aware that the main downside is your connection will seem much slower. This is partly because the signal is suddenly being bounced half way around the world, but it is also because VPNs tend to block cookies – we won’t go deeply into the nature of cookies here, but they are small pieces of data that remain on your hard drive after you visit a website that makes it faster to load on subsequent visits.

So is a VPN worth it? The short answer is yes, provided you are careful about how and when you use it. For example, using a VPN for casino gaming is a bad idea for reasons already mentioned. Also, you will often find that streaming movies or video content is impractical with a VPN due to the slower connection leading to extra buffering.

There are dozens of VPNs out there, and in the spirit of impartiality mentioned earlier, we will not go into specific examples here. Suffice it to say, you need to do your homework and evaluate all the options. There are free and paid services out there, and this is one of those occasions when it is better to pay a few dollars per month – when it comes to VPNs you tend to get what you pay for.

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