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What Is a VPN & What Use Is It?

by Dave Elliott

What Is a VPN & What Use Is It?

You may have heard the term “VPN” kicked around online, but not really had any idea what it is or what it’s for. Hopefully, this article will help demystify that a little for you, and decide if it’s something worth your time and/or money to set up.

What Is a VPN and what does it do?

Simply, it is a “Virtual Private Network”, hence the name VPN. Its primary purpose is to help protect you online by creating an “encrypted tunnel” for your internet traffic, keeping your online activity private, and away from the prying eyes of hackers, and any other internet Ne’er-do-wells who might want to snoop into your digital life.

However, it does also have a secondary feature, which is that most VPNs allow you to set your online location as somewhere different to your physical location. So, say you’re from the UK on holiday abroad, but want to be able to access a website, such as the BBC iPlayer, which is region-locked to UK-only, setting your VPN to the UK should allow you access.

What about accessing streaming sites from a country outside of the UK?

We are an entertainment news website, so I’m sure the question which has crossed your mind is whether you could use a VPN to access streaming services from other countries. The answer is yes… sort of…

As you are probably aware, many global streaming services have different content in different countries. If you’ve ever been on holiday abroad and booted up Netflix, you’ll probably have noticed the list of shows are somewhat different to the list you get in the UK. So yes, you technically could use a VPN to switch your location to the USA, and have access to the US catalogue. Whilst this is not illegal, we do need to point out, as with most streaming services, this is against Netflix’s terms of service, and if they realise you are doing it, they are well within their rights to cancel your account. So be warned, you try it at your own peril!

An additional problem can be that many streaming services that don’t operate in the UK, such as Hulu or HBO Max, require you to sign up for an account, which usually requires a US address and/or credit card. Whilst there are ways around that (which I’m not going to get into here), again, it is likely to be against the streaming service’s terms of services, and might see your account cancelled.

Which VPN should you use?

There are literally hundreds of options for VPNs out there. Sites like PrivacySharks do a pretty good job of listing and rating which VPN might be right for you. Some are much cheaper than others but have fewer features. Some are all-singing, all-dancing, feature-filled extravaganzas, but cost a lot more.

I personally use ExpressVPN which gives a really good mix of reliability, features, and price, for what I need, but there are many other options out there. The cost for a VPN can start from a few pounds a month, going up depending on what features you require, and the flexibility of the service.

Some VPNs are easier to set up than others. Some offer mobile apps, so you can use them on your computer and your phone. Some even allow you to install them onto your router. A number of VPNs offer free trials, so it might be worth giving one a go, and see which one works best for you.

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