While VPN services work wonders for businesses looking to protect proprietary information and college students working at coffeeshops, a VPN account protects more than just a few profit-loss statements or a class schedule. In some countries, it is the only shield you have against government scrutiny.
For years, oppressive governments in countries across the world have sought to control the flood of information to its citizens. But with the Internet's global reach, never has the want for informational freedom been greater. Recent demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia and Syria were convened using the Internet and social media. But with governments cracking down and seeking out activists online, the need to hide your IP address has never been greater. The web publication TheNextWeb.com reported that, in interviews with protestors, they claimed VPN's were a way of life now. One Bahraini activist, known on Twitter only as Abu Ahmed, said he takes many precautions like not tweeting until he is a safe distance from an event and obscuring faces in all photographs.
“It makes it harder to authorities to track small events and harder to identify me,” Ahmed said of his private browsing techniques. "Activists should also cover their online trail, use a program to hide your IP address and encrypt the data transferred."
In the September issue of the Atlantic, reporter James Fallows shows how the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria have put a scare into the Chinese government. A mildly oppressive government firewall called the Golden Shield has kept the flow of information out of China for years. But the government has turned a blind eye to businesses, students and other web warriors using proxy sites and VPN's.
Fear from these other nation uprisings has led to shake-ups in VPN usage, with customers still looking to circumvent the firewall and browse in private, but the government attempts to block these VPN channels. Now, VPN service providers are in private communications with customers, working to keep these channels running. The Atlantic believes the shake-up was simply a method to reassert power. But many VPN companies have vowed to keep improving services to nations like China, where private browsing is a luxury many are not afforded.