datahacker Blog

Who Watches the (VPN) Watchers?

How does someone who is not a VPN subject-matter expert choose a VPN provider? Often by reading reviews of various service providers. Yet, how can one tell the difference between a real review and a thinly veiled sham designed to funnel new customers to specific providers? At a glance, it's often difficult to disseminate the real gold from the pyrite websites (a.k.a., "Fool's gold").

There are literally hundreds of VPN service providers. Some have existed for decades, while others are recent upstarts, rising to prominence in recent years as the public's interest in VPNs has skyrocketed. Fanning this fad are dozens of organizations purporting to offer advice and "reviews" of those VPN service providers, but are these "reviews" truly reviewing anything? Are they analyzing, comparing, and discussing? Or are they simply reiterating a well worn script from someone else's playbook?

Many marketing firms specializing in online "reviews" don't actually review anything. Rather, they regurgitate canned marketing messages while attempting to portray the source as an expert, trustworthy independent party. Their tone normally takes one of two forms: 1) excitement; in a rush; hurry-up and buy. Or 2) the academic expert who can't stop extolling how amazing the company and their product are. It's the best thing since sliced bread.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word review as "... to examine or study again especially : to reexamine judicially."

Unfortunately, the vast majority of VPN review websites and articles are a sham. Designed to separate you and your money, they are not doing you any favors. What consumers really need (and want) are independent reviews that objectively support their decision making process. Do they need a VPN in the first place? If so, which ones best meet your needs? Why?

What has been missing in this univere of ubiquitous VPNs and "best VPN" purported "review" websites is a compass; a method of aligning VPN service providers with prudent advice that runs parallel to a user's needs and what the respective providers have to offer. Thus, my effort was born to attempt to fill that gap: a Review of the Reviewers, if you will.

Many of us rely on reviews when making decisions. Think about the last time you made a purchase decision when you had no prior experience with the product or service. What influenced your decision? A majority of people would say friends and family members, and after that, online reviews had a significant impact in their decision making process. And so it goes when selecting a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service provider.

When people lack knowledge in an area, they seek out experts. But, have you ever stopped to think to yourself, "How do I know if I can trust that review? How do I know it's legit?" The fact is you probably don't know and have no way of knowing. Yet, many of us implicitly trust such reviews when perhaps we shouldn't. The psychological trap is believing if the other person is reviewing something, they have experience with it. And if some experience is better than none (which you have), it makes the review appear more reputable. We convince ourselves the other party knows better than we do simply because they have experienced the product or service and we haven't. However, what that line-of-thinking misses is the fact the other party might be an idiot. You don't know.

Thankfully, when it comes to judging the legitimacy of VPN service provider reviews, there are some key facts you can look for. It is possible to set a benchmark; a low bar, below which advice should be ignored because it lacks substance. It is this corner of the universe where I am personally endeavouring to help you separate good from bad, useful from useless, in hopes you will gravitate toward information with greater context and arrive at a more informed decision for yourself.

The juxtaposition of content between the reviews and the reviewed. How do they align?

Specifically, I have put together an ongoing "Review of the [VPN] Reviewers," which you'll find here. Good hunting.