VPNs have been in the news lately and there has been some uncertainty surrounding them. There’s been quite a bit of a rage over VPNs in India as the government intended vpn suppliers to strictly follow the new cybersecurity rules. As a result, a few VPN providers have expressed doubts about continuing operations in India. We explain what a VPN is, why it matters, and what the controversy is about.
What is a VPN?
As the name suggests, VPN stands for virtual private network. Simply put, a VPN disguises your identity online. A VPN allows you to establish a secure and encrypted connection between your device and the Internet. Think of it as an invisibility cloak that protects your data and communications and prevents third parties from tracking your activities and exploiting your data.
How does a VPN work and ensure privacy?
When you use the internet – without a VPN – your data is directed to the internet service provider. What a VPN does is it routes your traffic through a VPN server. This ensures that when your data hits the internet, it comes from the VPN server and not from your phone or laptop. So, once the VPN hides your IP address, your data is safe and private from hackers, governments, or anyone who might try to keep track of your online activities.
Who are the heavy VPN users?
Simply put, anyone can use a VPN. However, VPNs are still not really mainstream. Many large companies use VPNs, as do lawyers, activists, security researchers, cybersecurity experts, journalists – anyone who doesn’t want their activities tracked. According to AtlasVPN, which keeps data on VPN adoption, there are approximately 270 million VPN users in India. Estimates from the Global VPN Usage Report 2020 suggest that 45% of internet usage in India is via VPN. So many people in India use VPNs.
What’s the “problem” between VPN providers and the government?
The government wants VPN providers to keep detailed user records. The data will include assigned IP addresses, why they are using the VPN, and email addresses, among others. VPN service providers believe this is an invasion of user privacy. They think that by storing user data they will fundamentally defeat the whole idea of having a VPN.
What is the way out for VPN service providers?
ExpressVPN made the “very simple” decision to remove its India-based VPN servers. Instead, it will move its virtual servers – where all data is stored – to another location. As ExpressVPN will still be able to connect to VPN servers which will give them Indian IP addresses and allow them to access the internet as if they were located in India. “These ‘virtual’ Indian servers will instead be physically located in Singapore and the UK,” ExpressVPN said.
How will the user experience be different on “virtual” servers?
Not much really. For the end user, the location of the server on which the data is stored does not matter. ExpressVPN said there will be a “minimal difference” for users. All such users – who wish to connect to an Indian server – will simply need to select the VPN server location “India (via Singapore)” or “India (via UK)”. Virtual server locations are extremely common. With virtual locations, the registered IP address corresponds to the country you have chosen to connect to, while the server is physically located in another country. Virtual locations are used, if necessary, to provide faster and more reliable connections to users.