VPN Industry: both boosted and threatened by politics

Nowadays, we live in a permanent state of connectedness, which has brought a massive shift in the perception of privacy. “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” said Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, and many governments around the world seem to agree. The creeping surveillance has effectively put an average Internet user between a rock and a hard place: you’re either being watched or simply offline. However, the latter option is becoming less and less practical in today’s world.

More problems, more VPN: Considering the scale of online tracking, censoring and profiling, it’s no wonder that the VPN industry has exploded in the past few years. For instance, VPN subscriptions in the US have skyrocketed after Trump passed the bill authorizing ISPs to snoop on their consumers and sell user data without their consent.

Another driving force behind the growing VPN popularity is the escalating threat of cybercrime, which is partially feeding off the continuous trend to collect and keep enormous amounts of data in centralized databases. People hear about fresh data breaches nearly every day, and the number of massive leaks is bound to rise due to high technology proliferation. This environment of insecurity and mistrust compels Internet users to look for means to protect themselves.

Getting closer to its users: One of the reasons why VPNs tend to stand out from the rest of the crowd as the prime solution to the privacy and security problem is the fact that many Internet users are not necessarily tech-savvy. While VPN was once reserved to government and corporations due to its high deployment cost and need of technical knowledge, the current crop of personal VPN services can be used by anyone. Naturally, providers will continue making their products even more straightforward and more accessible for users who do not want to research the intricacies of encryption protocols.

Challenges from legislators: 2017 has seen a few high-profile politicians toying with the idea of enforcing encryption backdoors. A joined statement agreed at a G20 meeting in June called on the tech industry to allow “lawful and non-arbitrary access to available information” needed to protect against criminal threats. If this frame of mind, focused on short-term security goals, prevails on the global level, it will undoubtedly create a hostile political environment for encryption as a whole.

However, although countries such as Australia and the UK are pushing forward with their attempts to weaken encryption, the US has up to now rejected such a move. Realistically, without the same legislation in the US, the impact of any other nations' laws will be limited.

What lies ahead: Despite the controversial image of encryption in the eyes of policymakers, VPNs are likely to become much more commonplace in the next five years, joining firewall and anti-malware software as essential tools for data protection. With the industry growing, we can expect new revolutionary technologies, eventually even harnessing quantum computing to bolster Internet security and privacy.

Ignatius Sim, Nord VPN
Image Credit: ESB Professional / Shutterstock

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