Some people have noticed I’m writing for a VPN service, and having my regular commentary on liberties presented by that VPN service: by Private Internet Access VPN. Seeing my previous stance on advertising, I think it merits some explanation why I’m choosing to associate with a service brand.
When I was posting once a day, this blog had one million visits a month. If you monetize that on advertising, it becomes quite a decent income – on the order of $3,000 a month, or frankly, enough to pay food and board for anywhere outside of San Francisco, Tokyo, or Hong Kong. And yet I didn’t. Why?
Because I posted from insight into high-level politics in Brussels, and my reasons were always political; I could not afford to have those motives questioned. Having even a little small advertising would make it possible to interpret my motives for outrage and frustration as simple clickbait – especially so when I was speculating on something or reporting on more subtle developments that might never materialize. Putting it in real terms, keeping my motives straight came with a price tag of several thousand US dollars a month, money that I chose to leave on the table.
Therefore, I would not agree to sponsoring lightly – not given the name I’ve worked hard to build. Especially given my very early investment in bitcoin (2011); I’m not starving, even if Gox ate a lot of my coin. However, it’s also the case that there are few people who both do things right on the net, and do things right for the right reasons, and I think these people deserve to be called out as good examples to be followed.
Bahnhof is one such actor, the Swedish ISP. They have consistently and tenaciously defended liberty online against governmental overreach and tabloid-fueled moral panic alike. When the Security Police came to visit their offices, to convince and pressure them to rat out their users in realtime bulk wiretaps, they famously recorded and published that conversation instead, causing huge headlines in Swedish media and rightfully shaming the Security Police into submission. That wasn’t a one-off, either – they keep doing things like that. However, their scope and offering is limited to Scandinavia, which is why I don’t write about them much on an English blog.
(Yes, my 100-megabit fiber, the one you’re reading this from and the one I’m writing this at, is indeed served by Bahnhof.)
So when the idea of sponsorship appeared, I was reluctant and cautious at first until I had looked at Private Internet Access VPN more in depth. A VPN company does provide a valuable service for liberty today, but do they also do things the right way and for the right reasons?
One such divider is whether a VPN provider accepts bitcoin. Another whether they save logs for “lawful use”, which can mean getting people killed in jurisdictions where it’s illegal to protest against the regime. Accepting bitcoin would mean that they honestly had no way of identifying a user, even if they wanted; there would be nothing to link to. Saving logs “for lawful use”, in contrast, would be an indicator that a VPN company didn’t have their head screwed on straight: the whole point is to defend liberty at a much more fundamental level than the laws on the books just right now. The perspective is centuries, not years or months.
It turns out that Private Internet Access not only satisfies criteria like these, but have walked an extra mile to run operations in jurisdictions that maximize liberty. From where I stand, they seem to operate under the principle that a successful business always follows passion for a good cause, and not the other way around.
Now, a VPN service – all of them, even – isn’t enough to save the net and liberty from kleptocratic politicians. But a liberty attitude combined with a service attitude is. Courage is contagious. And a VPN service is a good part of your overall security portfolio, even if it should never be the only one.
You’ll notice that TorrentFreak ran an article on which VPN services to trust in a “2015 edition” review yesterday. Private Internet Access is the first service listed. While I’d recommend reading all of it, I’m choosing a few highlights:
We do not log, period. This includes, but is not limited to, any traffic data, DNS data or meta (session) data. Privacy IS our policy. … We do not log and therefore are unable to provide information about any users of our service. We have not, to date, been served with a valid court order that has required us to provide something we do not have. … We do not attempt to filter, monitor, censor or interfere in our users’ activity in any way, shape or form. BitTorrent is, by definition, allowed.
Feel free to compare this stance to your current ISP. Do read it again if you like.
So to answer the initial question, why do I associate with a service brand? Because I think good people deserve recognition, and they deserve to be the measuring stick for the industry as a whole. This is the kind of attitude – both Bahnhof’s and Private Internet Access’s – that the rest of the Internet industry should aspire to, and needs to aspire to. (If other players need a nudge in that direction, it’s also enormously good business sense to put the interests of your customers before the invasive whims of your governments and authorities.)
As a final note for the sake of transparency, just to overcommunicate that point, I do get sponsorship funds from Private Internet Access for writing and talking about liberty in general – though not for writing this specific article; I’m doing that because I want to explain my motives. But as a sponsoree, I do have affiliate links for signing up, and if you want to use such a link, mine is here. They’re also reachable from TorrentFreak, presumably with TF’s affiliate program if you’re thinking of signing up and would rather send a little affiliate portion to TorrentFreak’s good reporting.