Welcome to our inaugural "sound smart(er)" item, where we simply explain a tech term so you can impress your friends. Today's term, VPN, is extremely timely given the Trump's recent signing of a bill overturning privacy rules designed to keep Internet service providers from selling your data without your permission.
What it is: VPN is an acronym for Virtual Private Network and is a piece of software designed to create an encrypted tunnel between two points on the internet so your browsing history is both secure and private.
Why it matters: VPNs have long been used to ensure secure connections to businesses or to obfuscate one's location, often to access content limited to a certain location (think streaming video). With Congress' rollback of the recent FCC rules, ISPs can continue to sell data about your browsing habits without your opt-in consent. Using a VPN will limit your ISPs' visibility into your online activities in the first place.
Downside: If you're using a VPN, you may not be able to access all the services you want, namely video streaming services like Netflix or Hulu that need to know where your IP address is coming from for content licensing purposes.
How you get one: There are plenty of VPN services out there, most of which charge a monthly or yearly fee. Tor, a free service, can be used to anonymize browsing without setting up a formal VPN, but rerouting your traffic through multiple servers can slow down your connection speeds and access to some websites.