Opera recently released an updated version of its web browsing software with the option for free Virtual Private Network (VPN) browsing through Opera’s servers. VPN differs from traditional web browsing by routing all if the user’s traffic through an external server instead if creating a direct connection. The major advantage, and Opera’s primary reason for providing free VPN, is privacy. VPN connections are designed to be secure and encrypt all traffic whether the traffic is already secured by https or not. Additionally, VPN inadvertently allows users to obscure their true IP address.
If my IP address was 188.8.131.52, any website I connect to would see that I am connecting from the Virginia Tech campus and that I am in Blacksburg, VA. If I were using Opera’s VPN service however, the websites I connect to would only see an Opera IP address located wherever in the world the Opera server hosting my VPN is located. There would be no easy way for a website to locate where I am connecting from.
There can be legitimate non-privacy reasons to use a VPN. Virginia Tech has a VPN service available that students and professors need to use when they are off campus to download from VT Network Software, access online library services, or use Virginia Tech’s various research subscriptions to access academic papers. It can also be used in ways it wasn’t intended to be used. For example, a student or professor trying to access Netflix’s US catalog from a foreign country could circumvent Netflix’s regional restrictions by simply connecting to Virginia Tech’s VPN.
There are a few concerning things about Opera’s service. The traffic from all Opera users using this VPN service will end up in Opera servers. That will generate a lot of bandwidth. How is Opera paying for all that bandwidth? As Randy Marchany said in his guest lecture to our class, “If you aren’t paying, you are the product.” What will Opera do with the log data from all that traffic? Second, if Opera is keeping log data, can they be trusted to keep it private? If the goverment comes knocking for whatever legitimate, or even illegitimate, reason, how hard will Opera fight to keep its user data private?