The situation regarding censorship and surveillance in the UK has been increasingly unpleasant and it doesn’t seem to be headed in the right direction. Starting with the 1st of January 2017, the Investigatory Powers Act (also known as the “snooper’s charter”) came into effect. In short, the act allows the government to intercept online and mobile communications under certain circumstances (national security, mental anguish and the list of broadly described scenarios continues.) Moreover, ISPs are forced to collect and store data such as browsing history of users for twelve months in the name of national security. If you live in the UK, the only way to keep your data secure would be end user encryption which is not covered or deemed illegal by the bill.
If you would like to get more information, we recommend reading an article about the Investigatory Power Act which explains the situation in depth and should give you better insight on the topic. The act was renewed at the beginning of 2017 with some amendments, which you can find in the article. You can also find more information about the context and justification of Mass Surveillance in the UK here.
Porn sites are also targeted by government censorship, in order to “protect children”. Internet users who want to access porn online have to opt-in with their Internet providers. It’s quite understandable why this is not a feasible option for a large number of users. It’s beyond absurd to be subjected to an opt-in process just to have access to services that should not have been blocked in the first place.
The best way to keep your information such as browsing habits safe and bypass content restrictions is to opt for a VPN service that will allow you to view content without worrying that the browsing history will be saved into some government database. With VPN services, as with any other service, you will have a choice from a multitude of providers that promise the best and fastest experience.
There are some key features that we look for in order to bypass the UK mass-surveillance and keep the connection as safe as possible, so here is a quick guideline of what we were looking for in the services we reviewed:
- Service must not be UK based: This should be pretty obvious, otherwise they would be subject to the same rules and regulations and it would defy the purpose of the service.
- Good privacy polices: It’s very important that the VPN service you sign up for to be transparent and have clear privacy policies and preferably a no-log policy as well.
- A good number of servers in Europe: The higher the number, the better the odds of getting a good connection and being able to use the service at optimum level. Having servers in UK is a plus, for those users who still want to access BBC iPlayer and other streaming channels while protecting their identity at the same time.
- Easy to use service: As the restrictions and regulations increase, the demand goes up and it’s very likely that not all the potential customers will be tech-savvy. This means that a simple, intuitive service and interface can make a huge difference.
This is just part of the general criteria that the services reviewed had to rise up to, and we will discuss details and extra feature as we encounter them in each individual service.
We have been reviewing dozens of VPN services and can easily recommend a few that raise to the standards while having some helpful features for UK users.
Private Internet Access (PIA VPN)
Private Internet access is one of the well known VPN providers not only due to the number of customers, but also due to the quality of the service they provide. Their customers range from casual to security conscious and it’s no coincidence that they have the same preference in VPN services.
There are several features that Private Internet Access excels in, and we would like to mention some of them.
- Great speeds both for browsing and torrents.
- Some of the best prices around especially accounting for the quality of the service.
- Not UK based – Operates out of the US.
- Thousands of servers available (you can find the full list of server locations here)
- VPN apps for all modern platforms, also compatible with many routers.
- Very good pricing (£32 / year).
If you would like to get more information on PIA VPN, we recommend reading our full Private Internet Access review. The review contains detailed information on the policies, features and speed test results of the service.
Mullvad VPN is a smaller VPN service based in Sweden with a good reputation regarding protecting their user’s privacy. One of their weakest aspects, the number of server locations, was recently improved by adding quite a few server locations across Europe. You can find the full list of available servers here.
Here are some of the key features that sets Mullvad VPN apart and makes them a good choice for UK users.
- Sweden based: we can’t stress enough how important it is for the VPN service not to be UK based due to the legislation.
- Easy and confidential setup process: They have an account generation method that you can check out here.
- Easy to use software and website (although they only support mobile devices via configuration files).
- One of the cheapest services around (£4.3 / month), free trial available.
There is also a full Mullvad VPN review available, though it’s a bit outdated at the moment and we will update it once we have some new information and speed test results available.
Opera Free VPN
When it comes to VPN services, a lot of people think that you cannot go wrong with a free solution. However, a lot of free services out there don’t have the tools, time or interest to get their performance and security up to par, which can cause some serious issues. Opera VPN however proves that you can have a strong, diversified and secure free VPN service while keeping things simple and user-friendly.
Opera VPN has quite a few strong points and we would like to mention some of them.
- Very user-friendly interface and service all around.
- Great speeds and very pleasant browsing experience (especially considering it’s a free service.)
- Free Android and iOS apps that include ad and tracker blockers.
- It’s free.
There is also a full Opera VPN review that we recommend reading, as it is one of the best structured free services and we took the time to meticulously explain and test out features.