Back when the internet consisted of a handful of computers networked together across a few research institutions, nobody could have imagined that it would one day form the backbone of a new digital way of life. And that probably explains why none of the researchers who thought up its core technologies — things like packet switching and TCP/IP — gave much consideration to the need to secure the data passing through it.
But by 1989, hackers like Robert Morris had already spotted the security weaknesses of the fledgling global network and started to exploit them. And that was just the beginning. Today, network administrators and individual internet users spend significant amounts of time and money trying to keep their data safe from prying eyes.
The de-facto tool most people use for that purpose is a VPN. It's a software encryption solution that prevents anyone from accessing data traversing the public internet other than its intended recipient. And VPNs make up a data privacy market that's already worth an estimated $41 billion worldwide. But VPNs aren't just all about security. Some, like Private Internet Access (PIA), are expanding their ability to provide location shifting and creating a whole new reason for users to turn to VPNs.
Here's an overview of the data privacy benefits of today's commercial VPN services and how PIA is elevating location shifting into the next must-have VPN feature.
VPNs Offer Point-to-Point Encryption and Anonymity
The core purpose of a VPN is to encrypt data as it passes through the networks that make up the internet. But they weren't necessarily intended for use as an internet privacy tool — at least not at first. At first, businesses used VPNs as a way to offer employees secure remote access to protected business networks while they worked from home or on the road.
The idea was simple. The user's PC would encrypt all network traffic using a key that only it, and the business network destination, had. Plus, the business's network firewall would only allow external traffic in if it came from an authorized remote VPN connection.
In recent years, however, commercial VPN providers have used the technology differently. Instead of using protected networks as endpoints, they set up geographically dispersed endpoint servers for users to connect to. By aggregating user traffic through those endpoints, the providers could offer users a measure of anonymity, plus the protection of in-transit data encryption.
That would mean nobody could access or read a commercial VPN user's internet traffic until it exited the VPN provider's endpoint. But because hundreds or thousands of users could be using the same endpoint for data egress — it would be all but impossible to connect any specific data back to its origin. And that's what makes them such a great tool for individual internet users trying to safeguard their privacy online.
Location Shifting as a Value-added Benefit
Although the privacy aspect of commercial VPNs is their main selling point, it's not the only one. Providers like Private Internet Access (PIA) have started to lean into the fact that there are other benefits to using VPNs that end users are more than willing to pay for. One of those benefits is known as location shifting. But to understand that, some background information is necessary.
On the internet, every connected device has a unique numerical or alphanumeric address — an IP address — that identifies it to other devices. Those addresses are how data gets from one point to another across the internet. But that's not all they do these days. Today, major websites and services use those addresses to deduce an end user's location. And that lets them create geo-restrictions to govern which regions can access which content.
But for VPN users, it's possible to shift locations by connecting to an endpoint server in a desired part of the world. To the aforementioned sites and services, it's the endpoint server's location that shows up, not the user's true location. That means a VPN user can make their traffic appear to originate from anywhere their provider has an endpoint server.
PIA, for their part, recognizes what a big deal that is. So they've set up endpoint servers in all 50 US states — and 84 countries in total — for their users to choose from. That means PIA's users can use the service to access region-specific content and geo-restricted sites all over the globe. They can, for example:
- Evade sports streaming blackouts to watch their favourite team from wherever they wish
- Access content from local news stations that aren't available from outside their coverage area
- Access region-specific streaming libraries from companies like Netflix, Prime Video, HBO, Hulu, and others
- Watch broadcast television content early by shifting time zones
- Access location-specific product discounts and other deals
In other words — Private Internet Access offers users a variety of benefits through location shifting that's well worth the price of admission. And although they're not the only provider to do this, they have the most extensive set of US endpoint servers and a global endpoint network that's second-to-none. That means users who value the ability to location shift online now have a new ally that's serious about giving them maximum flexibility.
The Continued Evolution of VPN Technology
The main takeaway here is that today's VPN services play a big role in giving internet users a means of retaining their privacy and protecting their data online. But as the years go by, innovators like PIA are evolving the technology to cater to some additional use cases beyond simple security. And location shifting is just one example of it. PIA, for example, also offers ad and malware blocking, support for next-gen VPN protocols like WireGuard, and split-tunneling support. Together, those features are quite close to making VPNs a must-have for every internet user out there — and there's every reason to believe that those won't be the last innovations we'll see in the market in the weeks, months, and years to come.