VPN is known for boosting online privacy. It’s a must for people not wishing to be tracked. However, some claims about VPN may be too enthusiastic. How much protection does it really offer? Can it be tracked or not? Answering this thoroughly requires some insight into how the Internet works.
Online activities always leave traces
The Internet is all about connectivity. To fetch the desired content, your browser makes requests to servers. They must know where to send the messages back. That’s why they know your IP addresses. But your laptop and smartphone reveal much more information like exact location, screen dimensions, operating system, preferred language and character set. It’s mainly for customization and optimization purposes.
Online entities routinely analyze user’s behavior. It mostly serves advertising optimization, measuring response of the public, introducing tweaks and researching the market. This applies especially in social media. Your posts, comments, likes and views over time add up to form quite a database about you – all willingly given to the SM platforms.
Hidden tracking by the Internet giants
Facebook, Google, Twitter and others easily monitor your every click on their websites when you’re logged in. They can also associate your account with the devices you most often use while visiting them. So, after logging out, they can still guess that it’s still you because of all the details your device reveals. But there’s more.
Many websites cooperate with the big players. Technologies like Meta Pixel and Google Tags are intended to monitor, store and analyze user activity on any website. Vendors provide tools and resources for that for an appropriate fee or even for free. In the meantime, they gather all the information for themselves, too. Without you even opening Facebook! The purpose is, shortly speaking, optimization. For example, an online shop must know how customers end up buying stuff to make upgrades. The only way to learn that is to track people.
VPN makes you harder to track, not invisible
Of course, there are ways to mitigate tracking, like use a VPN service. It replaces your real IP address in your web requests with the one belonging to the VPN provider. What of it?
There is a worldwide and open database of IP address pools that associates the groups of addresses with approximate geographical locations (and much more data, but this one is the most relevant). The IP is always revealed in communication, otherwise a web request would hit a dead end. So, it is commonly used for tracking. VPN can’t break the rules and operate without IPs. Instead, it uses IP replacement so that IP-based tracking gets misled. That’s because a VPN server is an intermediary between you and the Internet. You put a piece of your privacy in the VPN provider’s hands. The question is, do you trust him?
Luckily, the idea behind most commercial VPNs like Tuxler VPN and numerous other applications is to bring people privacy. They hire experts in cybersecurity and employ security measures that can deal with most potential attacks. Some are beyond defense measures of an ordinary Internet user, like a massive DDoS.
VPN isn’t an all-in-one solution
Don’t treat your VPN as a solution to all of life’s problems. Ever heard of tracking cookies? They can monitor and silently report pieces of your online activity. VPN can’t prevent that, but you can. Don’t accept cookies whenever possible. Search your browser for cookies’ settings. They probably can be automatically erased after a given time. The browser’s incognito mode also prevents permanent cookie storage. Just remember to use it for a short time, as the session data gets erased only upon closing this mode.
What makes you harder to trace?
If you truly wish to remain anonymous, think. What clues do you leave online that can lead back to you? We’ve covered the IP and cookies. Logging out from accounts associated with your person is also a must. What more can you do to maximize anonymity?
- Use a different browser, so its custom configuration can’t be linked with you.
- Change the Internet connection from your permanent provider, for example, to a trusted, protected public network.
- Use a device other than usual.
- Consider installing the Tor browser.
In some aspects, the last solution is an alternative to VPN. It relies on a series of traffic intermediaries. Every such node knows only about the next one, not the whole communication. Tracking it is extremely hard, but transfer speed is rather disappointing.
Complete anonymity is nearly impossible in the online world. You always leave some traces behind, but you can minimize them. The better you protect your privacy, the harder, longer and more expensive it gets to pinpoint you. With a VPN, you are less exposed, but you aren’t anonymous to the VPN provider. If the hypothetical trackers are determined and resourceful, they are likely to succeed. To make it impossible, you would need to leave no tracks at all, and that means disconnecting from the Internet.
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