The Global Web Index, the data-driven marketing tool, has recently released a study showing that 3 out of 10 people used a VPN to access the Internet in the last quarter of 2016. This is up from just 25% who did so in the first quarter of 2016.
Although this may seem like a giant leap in VPN usage among Internet users, it should come as no big surprise. 2016 was a very difficult year for digital privacy and security, and Internet users naturally turned to programs that help them handle this threat.
Today we’ll look at how Internet privacy and security took a real hit in 2016 and what some of the prediction are for 2017.
2016 saw many countries enacting legislation aimed at decreasing people’s privacy and increasing their government’s ability to have free access to that data.
First was Germany, whose data retention act requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other public telecommunications companies to retain all kinds of detailed records. These records include metadata about phone calls and text messages, as well as IP addresses and other details.
Another is the UK with its infamous Investigatory Powers Act (Snoopers’ Charter) that went into effect at the end of 2016. Besides many other things, the act allows the government to intercept, record, hack and monitor its citizens’ communications freely.
Across the Atlantic, the US government quietly let a new amendment to Rule 41 go into effect on December 1, which may allow the FBI to hack computers and phones anywhere in the world.
Other similar disturbing trends were seen in Belarus, Poland, Russia, Ethiopia, China, as well as Turkey.
The new Turkish laws make it possible for agencies to collect a very wide range of personal data, including beliefs, religion, sexual life, biometrics and other sensitive information, while also enacting a number of blocks to social media and other online services over the year.
In fact, according to GWI, the biggest rise in VPN usage actually comes from Turkish users in response to the changing political climate and blocks to communication tools in the country.
This year isn’t looking that much better. This is mostly in part of the dramatic developments in the US political landscape, with the inauguration of President Donald Trump set to bring in a lot of changes.
However true that may be, one big change in the US privacy and security status was actually introduced by Obama in his last days in office. He signed an executive order making it easier for the NSA to share intelligence collected globally with other US agencies, although a few days later he did introduce another law which regulates what the CIA can do with the US citizen data, which helps clarify how the data should be handled.
Going forward, however, the worry remains as to what will happen in the years to come.
The newly elected President Trump’s picks for high-ranking security posts are predominantly advocates of increased surveillance and fewer restrictions to data collection.
Looking around the world, although there are some improvements in data collection practices in the EU, many other regions will probably move towards more and more surveillance and data retention.
With so many agencies having such free access to users’ very private and very valuable information, there is a great fear that there will not be enough oversight to ensure the security of that information.
What it means is that governments across the world may be overwhelmed with data that can be mishandled or exposed. What’s left for us is to take our digital lives, our privacy and security in our hands.
One great way to get that protection, without undertaking too many James Bond measures, is to use a VPN.
A Virtual Private Network like NordVPN helps increase your privacy and security by anonymizing and encrypting all your communications while you’re on the Internet. It does so by encrypting your data first and then connecting you to a server in a location of your choice.
That server then connects to the destination site, meaning you are actually connecting to that site from the location of the intermediary server, rather than from your own.
Even better, NordVPN doesn’t store any communication logs.
It is more critical now than ever to be vigilant in how you handle the data that we share online. One extreme way is to go dark and completely remove yourself from the Internet (much harder than you think).
The other is to just be smarter in what you share, how you share it, and with whom you share it.