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VPN buying guide

While the choice to use VPN is an easy one for anyone who values their on-line privacy, many many other people are also coming to the same conclusion, and a plethora of VPN providers have sprung up to meet this growing demand.

When reviewing these services, one thing becomes very quickly clear: they are not all created equal. Given that they are all offering what is basically a very similar service, we are constantly surprised by how much variation in terms of both features and services there are on offer.

While our reviews goes into quite some depth about the pros and cons of each VPN provider we have looked at, we thought it would be useful to consider the various factors you should be thinking about when choosing which one is right for you.

We have also put them into roughly the order that we feel is most important, although this will vary depending on your particular needs. If watching Hulu from outside the United States is a major priority for you for example, but you never download torrents then, then you adjust the list accordingly.

1. Keeping logs

Given that the primary purpose of VPN’s is to provide their users with anonymity on the internet, we consider that not keeping of logs of users online activities is an essential aspect of the service.

If logs are kept then any VPN provider in the world can be forced to hand them over to the local authorities (and many have been known to put up very little resistance in this regard). The only way that a VPN provider can in complete honesty guarantee its clients’ anonymity, is if no records are kept. In this way, in the event of receiving a subpoena or court order to hand over details, or even if its servers are confiscated (it has happened), the VPN provider will be unable to compromise its users.

2. Other Commitments to Users’ Privacy

While keeping no logs of users’ online activities is the most important security factor, it is worth paying attention to other areas regarding a VPN provider’s attitude to privacy.

3. Is P2P torrent use permitted?

While this is not an important consideration for everyone, for many it is the main reason to use a VPN. Important factors here are both the country of origin of the VPN provider, and the location of its servers. Even if a VPN provider is based in a county that does not have mandatory data retention legislation (e.g. Canada), it is still likely to get into trouble if it allows copyright infringement on servers which are located in a country that does (e.g. most of the EU).

4. Server locations

In addition to P2P use, there are other considerations that apply to server locations:

5. Price

We understand that placing price in fifth place may appear a controversial decision, but given that the spread of prices is not large (ranging from a rock bottom $5 a month to a peak of about $15 a month, with most plans being somewhere in the middle), we feel that being able to deliver the service that users want is more important.

6. Ease of Setup & Use, & Support for your Device

Generally speaking, VPN services that provide their own client software are easier to set up than those who rely on third party solutions. This is especially true with the OpenVPN protocol, as the open source client requires setting up with extra configuration files which can be a little fiddly for the non tech savvy.

7. Customer Support

If things go wrong then customer support is there is help. All VPN providers have least a ticket based email support system, and most also have a web based Live Chat client. A few even offer telephone support and the ability to remote control your computer using software such as TeamViewer. Such companies are also more likely to offer 24/7 support, while smaller providers are usually only available during office hours in their country of origin. In our experience VPN companies are pretty on the ball when it comes to customer support, and most will answer queries within minutes during office hours, or as soon as office hours start if not.

8. VPN Protocol and Encryption

Although these are often featured as being  a big selling point, as we explain in this article, as long as PPTP is avoided the VPN protocol and encryption level should not be a major consideration, as both L2TP/IPsec and OpenVPN are good options.

Conclusion

Choosing a VPN is not as simple as it perhaps should be, and very few manage to get everything right (although some get very close). The best advice is to read reviews (such as our ones of course!) and to try out the services that seem most promising before settling on one that works for you.