VPNs have changed the dynamics of social media advertising — here’s what you should know

The Issue

Experts trace VPN history back to 1996 when a Microsoft employee, Gurdeep Singh-Pall started developing  Peer to Peer Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) – the first VPN Protocol in the industry. In 1999, the specification was published,and since then the concept behind VPNs and the technology have changed drastically.

 

It was initially developed only by large companies and organisations for their own goals. For example, companies needed a secure and private method to make communication and file-sharing between different offices possible and allow employees to remotely access important files without any risk of unauthorised users stealing sensitive data. But VPNs did not stay as an exclusive business tool for long – people began to realise that even the average online user could stand to benefit from what a VPN offers.

 

As time passed, more powerful encryption standards were implemented to further secure business communications. The evolution of the Internet brought about new and impressive development and exposed online users to Internet censorship, hacker threats, data mining, and  spam  ads. Privacy scandals like Wikileaks and Edward Snowden’s leaks  made users  more aware of their own online privacy rights and how government agencies, ISPs, and corporations abuse them.

 

Platforms like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, NOW TV, and Hulu rolled out services offering online users access to tons of on-demand video content, but also geo-restricting it to control access to their services. Users then resorted to using  VPNs  to access the platforms. . As more countries and regions such as Russia, China, Africa, and the Middle East began to create strict Internet usage policies and – as a result – censor a lot of online content, VPN services have served to  help online users bypass unfair policies.

The Question

Over the years, users have complained about a lag in speed and performance attributed to good encryption. In addition, bad VPNs have been found to have security loopholes; many are not entirely secure, so a user  needs a reliable VPN server to stay safe online. Then, there are the basic click-bait VPN providers available for Android and Apple devices, which are actually fake VPN services that may put your online data and security at risk by either collecting and selling personal information or not even protecting critical data.

 

In 2020, according to research by Nord VPN, seven free VPN providers — UFO VPN, FAST VPN, Super VPN, Free VPN, Flash VPN, Secure VPN, and Rabbit VPN — in Hong-Kong exposed 1.2 terabytes of data collected from millions of users who trusted them with their logs even though they claimed to offer no-log policies. Like the ISPs and the government, some free VPNs track their users’ online activities. Another research by Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) discovered that 72% of the free VPN services analysed embedded third-party tracking tools in their software.

“For both consumers and corporate organisations, especially small businesses, every user is still trying to ‘survive’ in a new social media terrain,” said Damola Oladipo, a project manager and expert in content management. “Most Nigerians have never been invested or interested in internet privacy, even though we are expected to consider them seriously. Because we do not exactly know a good or bad VPN, hackers are going to have a free rein in accessing people’s personal data and financial records through third-party connections.
Damola Oladipo
Project manager and content management expert

What The Streets Are Saying

Among our national focus group, all between 23 and 45 years old, 81.8% said they already have VPNs on their phones, while just 8% said they do not. In addition, the majority of the respondents (55.6%) said they only use their VPN to access Twitter, 22% have their VPNs on constantly for other activities on their phones, laptops, iPads, and others. In contrast, others use it for specific activities – with variations in the duration per day. 

Regarding the impact for their VPN use on the advertisement they consume, 77.8% confirm that the tech has changed the content they are exposed to, which can be easily traced to geo-spoofing. Majority (88.3%) also said that they ‘sometimes’ or ‘usually’ see ‘Nigerian adverts’  when they access Twitter using  VPNs, while about 11% said they do not.

 

“For both consumers and corporate organisations, especially small businesses, every user is still trying to ‘survive’ in a new social media terrain,” said Damola Oladipo, a project manager and expert in content management. “Most Nigerians have never been invested or interested in internet privacy, even though we are expected to consider them seriously. Because we do not exactly know a good or bad VPN, hackers are going to have a free rein in accessing people’s personal data and financial records through third-party connections.

 

“For brands, it changes the dynamics in social media advertising, especially Twitter. Basically, data is the lifeblood of any digital marketing campaign. When brands do not have accurate geographic data, it will be difficult for companies, especially larger ones, to determine their brand’s true impact on different regions,” he added.

 

Currently, users who have VPNs remain small, especially when compared with more advanced countries. But the VPN serves as a temporary solution, even as certain media platforms have reported stories about the Federal Government reaching out to the Cyberspace Administration of China to discuss plans to build an Internet firewall.

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