Have you ever wondered which VPN service provider is the absolute best? Well, that’s a bit of a flawed question because there is no such thing as “the best” VPN provider.
Different services have different features and varying hosting locations, and users prize certain features and qualities over others on a purely subjective basis. What one person may think is the most important quality may not matter to another person.
Likewise, there is no such thing as “the best VPN server location.” That determination is based largely on what you are trying to accomplish. In some cases, you won’t have any options with regards to which server you choose, which is often the case when trying to unblock on-demand streaming content that has been geo-restricted.
At any rate, different VPN server locations are suited for different purposes, so let’s take a look at some of the best use cases for particular countries and regions.
The Best Locations for Torrenting
With so many servers to choose from, it can be a daunting task knowing which VPN connection locations will suit you best for the task of downloading torrents. The legislation is finally catching up to P2P and BitTorrent trends, though the law crawls along more slowly than the ever-changing Internet.
In some countries, archaic copyright laws and regulations concluded BitTorrent downloads to be a copyright infringement, and in some cases, many regular citizens were labeled criminals and sent to jail.
Dependent upon where you’re located in the world, you may need to use a VPN tunnel specifically to protect your privacy from authorities. However, I advocate following the law, no matter where you live. After all, is it really worth putting your future in jeopardy to download a file or move? The answer is ‘probably not.’
However, you will still want to use a VPN tunnel to make sure that seeders and leechers in your P2P swarm can’t see your real IP address.
Furthermore, you’ll want to choose a server hosted in one of the laxest countries in the world to ensure that you’re not breaking international copyright law. The last thing you want to do is end up on some foreign government’s radar, so I’d recommend using a server in one country in particular.
Can you guess which country it is? If you’re a torrent addict, chances are you probably already know, but I imagine there are many casual downloaders who just haven’t had the opportunity to be informed.
The country I’m talking about, of course, is Switzerland. This country is advantageous for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the most advantageous reason to use Swiss VPN servers is that the Swiss government permits the downloading of pirated and shared media via P2P and BitTorrent software for personal use without any legal consequences.
That’s one reason why it has often been called a “digital pirate’s paradise.”
And VPN service providers are well aware of the situation in Switzerland. In fact, the laws are so attractive that they attract VPN providers like moths to a flame. It’s rather uncommon to find a VPN provider that doesn’t operate at least one server in Switzerland.
However, there is one caveat to Swiss laws that you need to be aware of. The laws only permit the downloading of copyrighted media for personal use. If you want to try to sell what you downloaded or make a profit off it, you would then be infringing upon Swiss laws.
I would also like to take a moment to address a few other countries that are often said to be great for torrenting, as follows:
- Spain – Spain is not the “piracy haven” that most people seem to think it is. Laws have been clamping down on piracy tighter and tighter, as evidenced by a crackdown on illegal sports streaming. The country has been cracking down on Internet piracy for over five years now, so I wouldn’t choose a Spain server for torrenting. The police have even shut down illegal IPTV services, too.
- Mexico – Mexico’s legislation leaves a lot of gray areas and contains a lot of loosely defined terminology that doesn’t draw a clear line in the sand. Sometimes people say that Mexico is a great endpoint for torrenting since the laws are so blurred; but once again, I would advise you to use Swiss nodes to download torrents. The climate surrounding copyright law is rapidly changing, too, because Roku devices were recently banned due to digital piracy considerations.
- Netherlands – last but not least is the Netherlands, which is also often cited as a great location for torrenting. Yet again, I’d recommend defaulting to Switzerland for torrenting, because the Netherlands has a lot of blurredly defined gray area when it comes to torrent law. It still isn’t technically legal to download torrents for personal use, yet it isn’t explicitly defined to be illegal either.
The Best Locations for Anonymity
When considering the best VPN server locations for anonymity, things start to get a little murky. International data retention laws are always changing, and VPN service providers don’t always meet the bare minimum data retention periods imposed by foreign governments.
I’ve even read privacy policies that claim they delete log files every three or four days across all their servers, which would mean a direct violation of some countries’ data retention laws.
I think the best comparison with regards to data retention is very similar to torrent and copyright law. For example, consider that even though P2P and torrent legislation may prohibit the downloading of copyrighted media for personal use, many providers still permit P2P traffic through their servers. Some VPN service providers can get away with this because they are based in a foreign country.
We do need to take a moment to discuss log files, too. Every VPN service keeps some types of logs. I know, I know, it sounds pretty scary. After all, isn’t the point of a VPN to completely hide your online identity and activities without leaving a paper trail?
It sure is, but please realize that the log files VPN services keep aren’t personally identifiable. In fact, some providers intentionally keep anonymous logs to protect their users’ privacy.
The types of log files kept by providers may measure the aggregate bulk amount of data passing through a server (to help monitor performance and measure capacity), whether or not there are VPN protocol errors, and other similar types of information.
VPN service providers (all the good ones I’ve seen, anyway) don’t log user activities. Doing so would undermine their business and scare off all their customers.
Even so, some people have a healthy paranoia of log files, and will only sign up with a service based in a country with lax data retention laws. I don’t perceive myself as a paranoid person or a conspiracy theorist, but I do see their point.
After scandals like PRISM and the NSA’s wiretapping endeavors brought to light by Edward Snowden, you can never take privacy too seriously. So, because of the inherent nature of logging and privacy within the scope of VPN services, let’s take a look at the countries with the worst and best data retention laws.
The following countries tend to have stricter data retention laws, and should be avoided if anonymity is your primary concern:
- Australia (a FiveEyes nation)
- UK (a FiveEyes nation)
- USA (a FiveEyes nation)
Generally speaking, I would avoid connecting to servers in these countries if anonymity and privacy are your number one concern. Personally, if I’m just trying to unblock geo-restricted content, I don’t really care. But if you’re sending sensitive data through the VPN server, I’d advise you to connect to a server in a country with more lax data retention laws when possible.
Remember, one rule of thumb is to try to terminate your VPN connection as close to the ultimate destination server as possible for increased security. Regardless of which VPN server you connect to, you may want to consider signing up with a service that is headquartered in one of the countries with more lax data retention laws.
The following countries have extremely lax data retention laws, making them ideal VPN endpoints with regards to anonymity, as well as favorable VPN company headquarters:
- The British Virgin Islands
- Czech Republic
- Hong Kong
The Best Locations for Streaming Media
Streaming media and on-demand video content is a whole different ballgame. And unfortunately, there isn’t really an easy answer to the question, “Which VPN location is best for streaming media?”
From a high-level perspective, I suppose it’s fair to say the countries like the US, Canada, and the UK are among the best locations because these three countries produce staggering amounts of television and cinematic content.
And a lot of streaming services are based in these countries. For instance, Netflix, Hulu, and HBO is available in all three of these countries, so choosing a VPN server from these regions is a no-brainer. But really, the first thing you need consider is where your content is accessible, because you may not even have a choice in the matter.
Geo-restrictions are being used with increasing frequency, and the technology is evolving to become more sophisticated. Some on-demand video services have even started trying to block VPN servers’ IP addresses with varying degrees of success.
At any rate, if you’re trying to access the BBC iPlayer, you’re going to want to choose a VPN server located in the UK. If you want to unlock HBO content, I would connect to a US based server.
The bottom line is that you’ll need to do a little homework regarding the service, sports team or league, content portal, or channels you want to unblock to see what region(s) in which it is available.
It’s generally inadvisable to use a single server location for all of your Internet traffic. If you really wanted to be a step ahead of the average user, you could setup split tunneling to exclude specified traffic from your VPN connection for better performance. But I would recommend using different VPN locations for different tasks.