Providers of virtual private networks, or VPNs, have seen a considerable increase in interest and usage of their products since the Congress voted to repeal protections that required internet service providers to get permission before collecting sensitive information from users.
When asked by International Business Times, several popular VPN providers reported a more than 50 percent increase in downloads of their services since the repeal of the Broadband Consumer Privacy Rules, as Americans have sought out options to help keep private their activity online.
“It's very scary to think about the power ISPs have to track, record, and even sell information related to what you do online if you're not using a VPN,” a spokesperson for VPN provider ExpressVPN said.
The British Virgin Islands-based company reported the most significant increase in interest since the repeal. According to the spokesperson, ExpressVPN has experienced a 105 percent increase in traffic from the U.S. and a 97 percent spike in sales.
Private Internet Access took out a series of advertisements in the New York Times as the Broadband Consumer Privacy Rules went through the legislative process to urge readers to call their representatives to vote against the resolution.
Those ads generated attention for the VPN, as well, which—according to Private Internet Access parent company London Trust Media—has seen between a 50 to 100 percent increase in new sign ups since the repeal of consumer protections.
KeepSolid, the New York-based company behind VPNUnlimited, noted a 32 percent increase in purchases and growth of 49 percent in total downloads. The company also reports having a considerable amount of increased engagement via social media regarding user privacy.
Hong Kong-based VPN provider PureVPN said it experienced a 40 percent jump in traffic from the U.S. in the weeks following the rollback of the internet privacy rules, along with a 21 percent increase in downloads—with drastic spikes coming from New York, Chicago, California, Texas and Washington— and a 53 percent increase in chat queries about the service.
While most of the VPN providers took a rosier view of the increased interest in personal privacy, a representative for PureVPN wasn’t as sure the rises were likely to last.
The spokesperson noted recent comments from internet service providers that promise a commitment to user privacy and said, “I'm worried people just might pass on protecting their digital identity and continue as they did before.”
She said the upward trend experienced in the immediate wake of the Broadband Consumer Privacy Rules has already started to “stabilize and settle in,” which may suggest many users have already moved on from their interest in protecting their web history and potentially sensitive user information.
For those who have remained engaged and interested in ensuring their privacy, taking small steps like browsing in private browser windows like Incognito mode in Google Chrome may provide some privacy—though it primarily just hides your activity from other users on the same computer unlike a VPN, which actively routes user activity through an encrypted connection that shields it from ISPs.
Users can also begin using encrypted messaging apps to prevent service providers from intercepting unencrypted messages that may contain sensitive content.
Most internet service providers do still offer the ability to opt out of data collection practices. The process is often made complicated and may require sitting on the phone with customer support, but will provide the peace of mind that every online activity performed won’t be recorded and sold.