With security and privacy in mind, will more browsers follow Opera's lead and offer free VPN?
The modern internet user is somewhat paradoxical -- looking to be more connected and contactable than ever before, whilst simultaneously seeking privacy. Can the two ideas live side by side? It's a tricky balancing act, but many people turn to VPN tools to increase their security and privacy online.
Opera is the first web browser to bundle a free VPN tool as standard (with unlimited VPN data, no less), and it's hard to imagine that the competition won’t follow suit. Nothing has yet been announced, but the appearance of versions of Chrome or Firefox with integrated VPN would hardly be a surprise -- or would it? And how would you feel about a VPN tool supplied by Google?
Opera can offer a VPN tool without a second thought because it has a very different model to Google. Google makes its money by harvesting as much data as possible about its users and then using this to deliver targeted ads. Introducing a VPN feature to Chrome would seem counterintuitive, but if Mozilla follows Opera's lead, Google may be left with no choice.
The arrival of in-browser VPN to Opera is important at a time when people are more concerned about their security and privacy than ever before. But being concerned and knowing what to do are two entirely separate ideas. Not everyone who is aware of mass surveillance or other forms of privacy invasion is aware of what a VPN is, let alone how to use it.
That said, Edward Snowden's revelations, and the merciless drive of the UK government to gather more and more information about internet usage has made people aware that something needs to be done. Providing people with the tools they need is the first step towards allowing them to take control of their own privacy and security -- at least to some extent.
It's not just about privacy and security, of course, The internet was supposed to break down barriers, but in recent years it seems as though it is creating new ones. Geo-locked websites and services are seen by some as unfair and undemocratic, but there are more serious issues such as the Great Firewall of China preventing access to important information. Getting more VPN options out there is just one way to get around these problems.
Mozilla would be foolish to not follow suit and copy Opera. The same goes for Google, but it really has something of a vested interest in discouraging people from using such tools. Google has some soul-searching to do in the light of the most recent Opera release and it needs to ask itself whose needs are more important -- its own, or its users?
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