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6 common VPN myths — busted

VPN are useful tools that can help protect your online privacy, get around annoying geo-restrictions, and avoid bandwidth throttling. If you've been in the market for a VPN for awhile, you've no doubt heard a bit about them. Wondering what's true and what's false? Here are six myths about VPNs that are simply not true.

VPNs are only for people who know a lot about tech

Dealing with a VPN can no doubt seem daunting. An acronym is thrown your way and you're supposed to know what it stands for and how to set it up and what it can do for you.

But using a VPN these days really isn't that tough. Most VPNs have an intuitive app that takes care of pretty much everything. All that's left for you to do is click a big button to turn it on. Apps from the best providers, including NordVPN (opens in new tab), IPVanish (opens in new tab), and ExpressVPN (opens in new tab), even connect you automatically to the fastest server available.

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Whether or not you're tech-savvy is not really an issue anymore when it comes to VPNs. All you have to worry about is your privacy.

You don't need a VPN if you aren't doing anything illegal

Ahh, the classic, "I don't have anything to be worried about if I'm not doing anything illegal" angle. Would you like someone watching you while you read a newspaper? Would you like it if someone were paying attention to your everyday activities, keeping a file on you for future reference?

Nevermind the privacy aspects of a VPN, there are also plenty more legitimate uses that many people take advantage of on an everyday basis. Want to watch TV from a different country? No problem. Want to stop your ISP from throttling your bandwidth? That works too. Want to stop seeing so many targeted ads in your browser? No problem.

The reality of the current internet is that any way you can hold onto some privacy is invaluable, including the use of a VPN.

Free VPNs are just as good as paid VPNs

Why pay when you can get the same product for free? Not a bad question, especially when it comes to VPNs. The main objective of using a VPN is usually to retain a bit of privacy while online. Unless a "free" VPN is incredibly charitable, they're likely making money somehow; it costs a lot to maintain servers around the world. The easiest way to make money is to either inject ads or sell your information to interested buyers.

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While paid VPN services should also be watched with a wary eye — even a claim of no logs usually means there are some logs kept — at least you know where they're getting their money from.

That's not to say there aren't some decent free VPN services out there. There are, except they're also usually a pared-down version of a paid service that is aimed at getting you to eventually sign up for the full ride.

You are completely anonymous when using a VPN

Privacy is not the same as anonymity. VPNs work by routing your data through an encrypted tunnel to a server that's shared amongst other customers. After passing through the server, that data hits the open internet. You remain partially anonymous thanks to a shared IP address, but, if a party takes enough interest in you, your actions will likely be uncovered.

There's a common misconception that hackers turn on a VPN and start working completely unafraid of being caught. That's not true. If an agency takes enough interest in your internet browsing history, they're going to find it. A VPN should be viewed as a tool to protect against mass surveillance and help protect your privacy.

VPNs slow down the speed of your internet

IPVanish review (Image credit: Windows Central)

VPNs work by routing your internet traffic through special servers, so it's understandable that you'll often see a dip in performance. However, slower internet is not always a result. In my tests of NordVPN, I was able to hit a download speed of 34.63 Mbps. That might not be incredibly fast by today's standards, but it's also significantly higher than the 25 Mbps bandwidth cap that my ISP puts on my internet service.

If you take the time to find a high-performance server, there's no reason why you won't see speeds on par with or higher than you're paying for.

You don't need to worry about privacy as long as a VPN is highly rated

Taking a look at a VPN's website, you might think that each one is the best of all time. There are often awards and recommendations and stars plastered everywhere, with the promise to deliver an unbeatable experience.

There are, however, plenty of things to look out for when shopping for a VPN, including the privacy policy. Even if you see it written somewhere in big letters that it's a "no-log" VPN, be sure to read the fine print. There are often morsels of information kept depending on how you pay, how you sign up, and how you use the VPN.

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Bottom line: Be vigilant when it comes to using a VPN, and you'll be much more satisfied in the long run.

More VPN resources

For more information about VPNs and privacy in general, be sure to check out the following links.

We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example:

1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service).

2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad.

We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.

Cale Hunt
Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

11 Comments
  • On the slow down point, we were worried about that, but we pay for 25 down and 10 up and anytime I've done speed tests, we always get within +/- 1mbps from that. Other thing I would say: Netflix will block you if they detect you're using a VPN, assuming you're just doing it to access content you're not supposed to have. That's really annoying. I get that they want to allow different libraries by your current location instead of the account you pay for in order to allow for travellers to see different things when they move, but I would rather they just always served us Canadian content. As is, we have to weaken our security to watch Netflix, and we end up usually just leaving the VPN off because it isn't worth turning it off and on with how much Netflix we watch. This is the only reason I would not tell everybody to permanently have a VPN on for everything they do.
  • "Nevermind the privacy aspects of a VPN, there are also plenty more legitimate uses that many people take advantage of on an everyday basis. Want to watch TV from a different country? No problem. Want to stop your ISP from throttling your bandwidth? That works too. Want to stop seeing so many targeted ads in your browser? No problem." HUH? This is a bit disengenuous to say the least.  True you may not be breaking any formal laws but, 1. Watching TV from a different country - The reason it is restricted is because the content providers don't have agreements in said country to make money for the content THEY PAY TO CREATE in said country.  Using a VPN to go around this equates to copyright infringement/theft of content. 2. Stopping your ISP from throttling bandwidth - Using a VPN does not avoid the fact that you are violating your terms of service with the ISP.  If you are using more bandwidth than your plan, and therefore being throttled, then you should pay for a higher plan or switch providers or whatever.  You should not try to skirt the issue and use bandwidth you're not entitled to use. 3. Stop seeing ads - especially surprised to see this one listed on this site that goes to the effort of putting up its own ad-blocker prevention tools.  Content providers use ads in order to pay for the content that you are getting to view.  If you want the content then you should pay for it, nothing is free.  
  • 2. Stopping your ISP from throttling bandwidth - Using a VPN does not avoid the fact that you are violating your terms of service with the ISP.  If you are using more bandwidth than your plan, and therefore being throttled, then you should pay for a higher plan or switch providers or whatever.  You should not try to skirt the issue and use bandwidth you're not entitled to use
    I think this point is made in regards to the net nutrality side of throttling and not the advertised speed cap side of bandwidth.  Some ISPs will throttle download traffic, such as Torrent traffic, to make room for other traffic.  If they can't see the type of traffic you're pulling, then they can't throttle it. ie A Torrent download that was previously being throttled will look like VPN traffic instead, avoiding the down throttle.  This is all moot if they throttle VPN traffic from popular vendors (I havn't heard of this but it is just as easy to implement as throttling Netflix.) I'm not sure there is a way to raise your total bandwidth if your ISP has the throttle set to a hard amount.  I know Cox and mediacom (use to?) loosely set the throttle because I regularly got speeds higher than my cap.  That all ended though when my bandwidth cap exceeded my modems capabilities so it's been awhile since I could test this.
  • You also forgot to mention the risk taken when using a public wi-fi hotspot. This has the potential to reroute your DNS traffic and log all your traffic e.g. email (often sent in the clear), web browsing (without the padlock) and so on. A VPN will protect you against this sort of thing (check using a DNS leak check product that the VPN is managing DNS and not the public wi-fi spot).
  • That is the reason why I recently purchased a subscription to NordVPN. Spending a lot of time on an open WiFi spot lately for a project and I was running out of data on my mobile plan. 
  • I want to add that in my opinion, That One Privacy Guy, has the best information on nearly all VPNs out there. Thatoneprivacysite.net check out the Detailed VPN Comparison chart  that is on there. That made my decision a lot easier.
  • I suppose the main difference between using a VPN vs a Proxy is the encryption.  But the way the article describes it it seems as if describing using a proxy as no mention of encryption is made. For me VPN has always meant a way to remote connect to another network, that's why the concept of most of what is advertised as VPN these days didn't really make sense because it was to connect to the internet but by doing a ricochet through another network which only use is to hide your IP (again back to the definition of what a proxy does).
  • The main purpose of VPNs as far as I'm concerned is to securely connect different private networks via the Internet (or road warriors to private networks). The usage scenarios mentioned in this articels are neither main or completely legitimate. 
  • It's not a "myth" VPNs slow you down. It's observable fact the majority of the time. If your VPN is international (where the majority of cases it will be...that's why people use them...stop YOUR government spying on you) it WILL be slower..fact. the further your server, the larger the ping.
  • True, plus the encryption takes time assuming your VPN encrypt all data, and increases the size of the data. So downloading 100mb using an encrypted VPN will traffic more than 100mb.  But: 1. They may use compression which will reduce that traffic 2. If your ISP throttles that specific download, using a VPN you might get faster speeds.    But in general, yeah VPN will almost always be slower.
  • It is definitely slower than my max 200Mbps+ speeds. If you're on 25Mbps or even 50Mbps, maybe even 75Mbps speeds then you likely won't encounter much slower speeds if any unless you have an old computer. If you have anything above 100Mbps, then depending on your VPN, it'll definitely slow down a lot.