What Does a VPN Hide? A Lot, But Not Everything – PIA VPN
You’re all alone at home, so nobody’s around to see what you’re doing online. But can you be sure about that? When you signed up to an ISP for internet service, you shared your name, contact number, and home address.
You might not have read the small print, but your ISP can record, monitor, and share your downloads, IP address, and any browsing data. With all this information, your ISP can compile a complete profile of all your online activities.
If this sounds alarming, perhaps you should protect your privacy and secure your browsing information with a VPN. A VPN is there to hide what you get up to on the internet.
What Information Does Your US-based ISP Have on You?
If you’re in the US, your ISP has more information about you than you realize. As long as it knows your IP address, your US ISP can see which websites you visit and what you do when you visit them, the links you click and the search terms you enter. Your IP address also reveals your physical location, such as your exact city, state, ZIP code, and country.
That’s not all. Your ISP can track your streaming and downloading activities too. It knows every time-stamp when you connect to a website or download a file and the size of every download you initiate. It may use this information to throttle your internet connection and slow down the speed at which your video downloads or your game responds, resulting in the dreaded buffer wheel.
It’s even more concerning that since 2017, ISPs in the US have been legally permitted to sell your personal data. ISPs get to decide what is necessary to anonymize the information, so who knows who has full visibility into your internet actions?
What Does a VPN Hide?
The good news is that a VPN can hide a lot of information that you’d often prefer to keep for yourself. Here are the most important answers to what does a VPN hide:
- A VPN Hides Your IP Address
A VPN reroutes your online connection through a VPN tunnel to give you a new IP address. This masks your real IP address, so data thieves and snoopers will have a very tough time getting your real location, if they can at all. Hiding your IP address effectively hides your zip code, city, state, and country.
Hiding your IP address also protects you from websites that adjust their pricing for visitors from different areas. Many services, especially hotels, airlines, and other travel sites, present different prices for locals than for tourists. When you use a VPN, you can connect to a local server and often enjoy cheaper rates and special offers.
- A VPN Hides Your Personal information
VPNs use encryption to scramble every piece of data that leaves your device, so that even if someone hacks into your network and intercepts your internet traffic, they won’t be able to read it.
That’s particularly important if you’re using public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks. VPN encryption helps secure your sensitive information like passport numbers, banking details, or contact information, as well as any embarrassing messages you send your BFF.
- A VPN Hides Your Online Activities
It’s creepy when you check out a new recipe for Thai food, and then you’re bombarded with ads for Thai take-out. That happens because retailers spy on your search history and browsing footprint. Sometimes, companies even hijack your browser to redirect you to sales pages.
A VPN helps stop the madness of targeted advertising in two ways:
- Quality VPNs include ad blockers that stop annoying ads, trackers, and malware before they hit your device.
- VPNs break the link between you and your browsing and search history, which means your search terms, the links you click on, and how long you spend on each webpage won’t come to haunt your devices and apps in the future.
With a reliable VPN, even your ISP can’t see what you get up to online. That way, it can’t throttle your connection when you stream live sports, or cap your bandwidth on Twitch. It also means that your ISP won’t know what you download, if you use torrenting services, who you chat to in gaming rooms, or have any record of your online activities.
- A VPN Hides Itself
A VPN may stop third parties from seeing your personal information and what you get up to online, but it doesn’t stop others from noticing that you’re using a VPN. In authoritarian regimes like Iran or China, just using a VPN could be enough to get you arrested.
Even in open societies like the US, some networks apply VPN blockers to prevent people from using a VPN. Top VPNs – including PIA – use obfuscation to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN, giving you an extra layer of privacy. PIA also has a multi-hop for an extra layer of protection.
What Does a VPN Not Hide?
Although a VPN can be very powerful and hide many things online, it’s not a perfect shield. There are still some things that a VPN can’t protect you from.
👉 Your Local Browsing History
The browser you use to access the internet records everywhere you visit and every search you request. If someone takes your device, they could see everything stored in the browser, even if you use a VPN. You can get around this by using private and incognito browsing windows, and regularly clearing your browsing history.
👉Your Account Activity
A lot of websites and apps require you to log in whenever you use them. They know all the personal information you provided when you signed up, so they can track whatever you post, see, or do on their platform, even when you use a VPN.
This includes social media like Facebook or TikTok, online retailers like Nike or Sephora, banking platforms like PayPal or your local bank, and browsers like Google Chrome.
👉Your Devices From Cyberthreats
VPNs on their own can’t protect you against malware or viruses. For that, you need antivirus software, or a VPN that has the option of antivirus protection. VPNs also can’t stop phishing attacks that manipulate you into giving up your personal details.
A VPN blocks websites from placing cookies and trackers on your devices, but it can’t remove the ones that are already there. Those existing cookies might still expose your data to third parties. Clear your cookies regularly to increase your privacy.
How Do I Know If I Can Trust My VPN?
It’s difficult to tell if your VPN delivers on all the promises around what a VPN is supposed to hide, but there are some ways to check your VPN’s reliability. Here are a few things to look for to help you decide if your VPN is up to the task.
🔍 Read the Reviews
User reviews can give an unbiased overview of each VPN. Look beyond the star ratings and read details of other users’ personal experiences. Technical reviews in blogs and online publications usually provide details about the VPN’s specs and usability, which is great if you want to know about the tech behind the tool.
Moreover, you should also check if the VPN’s No Logs policy was audited by a third party. Independent audits verify whether the privacy claims made by the service are true and they have become an industry standard.
🔍 Check the Level of Encryption
Not all encryption standards are created equal. For example, PIA uses military-grade 256-bit AES encryption, which is among the hardest encryption protocols to crack. The higher the encryption level, the more you can trust your VPN.
🔍 Find Out Which VPN Protocols Are Supported
A trustworthy VPN should offer OpenVPN and Wireguard®, like PIA does. These are two of the most widely recognized VPN protocols that offer the best security.
🔍 Look at the Features List
Like independent audits, certain VPN features have become staples:
- Kill Switch, which automatically breaks your connection if the VPN fails.
- Split tunneling, so you can use both public and private networks at the same time.
- Obfuscated servers that hide your VPN use.
- Dedicated IP servers, so you don’t share an IP address with anyone else.
- DNS leak protection.
🔍 Check the Server Options
With some VPNs, you can choose your preferred server from a long list of choices. This gives you more options for changing your location. PIA has servers in many countries around the world, not to mention at least one server in each US State.
How Can I Test If My VPN Protects My Online Privacy?
You can perform several tests to check if your VPN is actually protecting your data.
- An IP address test checks for an IP address leak. Turn off your VPN and use an IP Lookup Tool to check your real IP address, then turn on your VPN and check your IP address again. If it’s still the same, your VPN has failed.
- A DNS leak test checks if your DNS requests are exposed by your VPN. There are lots of free DNS test sites that give you the results in a few minutes.
- A WebRTC leak test checks that your VPN is scrambling the technology that browsers use to communicate with each other, so they can’t see your IP address. A WebRTC test site will give you the reassurance you need.
- A VPN audit is carried out by an independent body to assess the VPN’s security levels. You can read PIA’s audit report here.
The Bottom Line: Does a VPN Hide What You Search?
When you choose a reliable VPN, you can trust it to hide your search history, IP address, location, internet activities, personal information, and more.
This does not apply to platforms that require you to log in to be able to use them. If you log into your Google or Facebook account, whatever you do on the platform will be associated with that username. No VPN can protect against that type of tracking.
Use PIA VPN to protect your privacy, secure your sensitive information and free yourself from throttling.
Yes. A VPN conceals your internet searches, but only after you install it. Third parties can still see your previous searches, so clear pre-existing browsing data and maintain your privacy.
This does not apply to services that require a login. If you log into Facebook with the VPN on, the platform can still associate your activity with your account.
PIA VPN goes a step further by employing MACE to block ads which could target you based on search terms.
Absolutely. Your browsing history is the first answer to “what does a VPN hide?” VPNs with top-notch encryption keep your browsing history private by scrambling and securing all the data that goes out from or into your device.
PIA VPN uses 256-bit AES encryption and world-class protocols like OpenVPN and WireGuard® to hide your browsing activities.
No. A VPN can help you be safer online, but it can’t hide you completely. For example, when you log into a website or app, it can track and record whatever you do on its platform.
If you log into a browser like Google Chrome, Google can see your search queries, clicks, website visits, and more.
Your VPN won’t hide cookies and trackers already existing on your devices, your account activity on websites you log into, or any information that you choose to share with a website, app, or platform.
A typical VPN also can’t stop viruses and malware from reaching your device, but some include anti-virus software that protects you from these attacks.