VPNs have become quite popular in recent years, with privacy and security experts encouraging internet users to acquire one. These tools have also proven very valuable in our day to day lives, helping users access blocked content and even unlock a whole new Netflix catalogue! But do you really need one? Can a free option still do the job? Today, we’ll help you answer these questions.

To know whether you need a VPN, you first need to understand what it is.

What is a VPN?

A VPN (short for Virtual Private Network) is a tool that encrypts your internet traffic and securely tunnels it to a private server of your choice. This server then masks your real IP address and gives you a new one which you can browse the internet with.

This means that you will have a new online identity corresponding to the location of the server, and your traffic will be secure from interception, and even the snoopy eyes of your ISP.

It’s important to note that different VPNs offer different levels of privacy and security, and some like SurfShark VPN (review) pack more features than most.

When do I need a VPN?

Truth is said, a VPN is almost inevitable in today’s world. This is because of its many use cases that include:

Privacy: You may need to hide your online activities from your ISP. The incognito functionality on your browser won’t help with that.
Anonymity: When you don't want your online activities to be traced back to you (e.g., when torrenting), you will need to change your IP with a VPN service that doesn’t keep any logs.
Security: It's important to secure your data, especially if you use public hotspots. These are havens for hackers who want to steal personal data or even infect you with malware.
Streaming: If you want to access BBC iPlayer or Hulu among others outside the UK and US, respectively, you’ll need a VPN. The VPN will also help you stream Netflix titles that are not available in your country. For example, While Friends is no longer available on Netflix US, it’s still available in most other regions. Netflix US, however, has the largest catalogue.
Circumvent Content Blocking: Some countries block content that is still available in other countries. E.g., Torrent sites. These ISP blocks can be easily bypassed by connecting to a VPN.
Evade Censorship: If you live in a country with tough restrictions, you can bypass them using a VPN. If the country blocks VPNs, you will need one with obfuscation capabilities.

How about a Free VPN

Free VPNs allow users to get some benefits of using a VPN without having to dig into their pockets. However, as you probably know, TANSTAAFL. Free VPNs have to earn in some way as they still have to pay for the server bills. This means that they either earn through unscrupulous means such as selling your data, or they serve adverts and entice you to upgrade.

Further, all these products usually have limitations in terms of speed, bandwidth, and features, and so they can't really be relied on for privacy and security or even data-intensive tasks such as streaming and torrenting. For instance, you can install a free VPN for Mac for safe browsing and accessing region-locked sites.

If you really want to gain the benefits of a VPN, then it will prove worth it to invest in a premium one. You can always go for a budget-friendly option and get the best value for your bucks.