Earlier this month, the government of Nigeria imposed an indefinite ban on Twitter. A move that comes against a backdrop of social media exposing and sometimes embarrassing governments on the transgressions it is carrying out on its citizens. A good case in point for the Nigerian government is the #EndSARS protests that quickly went across Nigeria and the world.
On Africa’s eastern coast, we find even more governments showing increasing impunity. They try to silence dissenting voices that are calling out the state-sponsored transgressions against the people.
The Ethiopian and Ugandan governments are particularly notorious. Now and then, we hear that the governments have either shut down the internet altogether, barred access to specific social media sites, and imposed unheard-of taxes on social media usage. There are also allegations that some African governments are secretly monitoring high-profiled critics’ activities on the internet.
Weak Data Protection Laws
Unfortunately, a good number of countries across the African continent have weak to non-existent data protection laws. That means it would be effortless for even a very junior officer from a government agency to request data logs from an Internet Service Provider (ISP). They can then use these data logs to unlawfully keep tabs on government critics leading to arbitrary arrests and sometimes extrajudicial killings.
However, it is commendable that several African countries have begun adopting more robust data protection laws. Although some influential people enjoying the state machinery still find corrupt ways to work around these laws. So citizens thinking of doing some social activism should not bank on that fact alone.
Taking Online Security into your own Hands
Even in advanced economies with progressive data protection laws, there are cases where government agencies keep tabs on civilians’ internet activities. You only need to look at allegations laid out by the likes of Edward Snowden against the U.S. government to know that progressive data protection laws are not enough to assure you of privacy and security online.
That is why more people – not just high-profiled government critics or journalists – are taking online security matters into their own hands. One of the best defenses regular people have in protecting their online privacy and security is VPNs (Virtual Private Networks).
For instance, in the case of Nigeria, Google search reports indicate a 14X increase in the number of people searching for VPN services in the West African nation.
Google searches for “VPN” in Nigeria are currently about 14 times higher than usual
— UberFacts (@UberFacts) June 4, 2021
While using a VPN, can you be tracked?
By using a VPN, you use an anonymous IP address while hiding your real one. At the same time, your internet traffic is highly encrypted. That means anyone interested in tracking your online activities will not be able to establish what sites you are visiting online. So if your fears are being tracked by hackers, web tracking technologies, or the government, using a VPN will eliminate such worries.
We also know just how aggressive marketers have become and how lucrative the advertisement industry has grown from a business perspective. You might not be interested in toppling some authoritarian government or exposing some atrocities done by some dictator president. Nonetheless, there are so many parties online keen to know what you do online.
The biggest culprit is the social media giant, Facebook and search engine giant, Google. These two tech behemoths make a lot of money from selling users’ data to marketers. For that to happen, they need first to build an accurate profile of you as the users and then serve you highly targeted ads on things you might be interested in purchasing.
They are perhaps the most notorious trackers of people’s online activities than, say, governments or hackers looking to steal your banking details or your digital identity. If you are annoyed by this fact and want your online activities to be anonymous, then VPN is your weapon.
This article does not purposely sell VPN as the silver bullets for all your cybersecurity concerns. Indeed it would be best to do your due diligence since not all VPN service providers are equal. Some VPN services operate in countries where they are supposed to keep logs of their clients’ activities by law. Such service providers can be subpoenaed to hand over your records to government authorities.
Some log your activities and will sell them to marketers. So while you will maintain your anonymity from your local ISPs, marketers will profile you from the anonymous IP address assigned to you by the VPN. There are also those with weak encryption, limited servers, or servers not in your desired locations.
These are all factors one should consider when out shopping for a VPN service provider. Although, once you find a good one, you will enjoy more privacy and security online. In addition to unlocking geo-fenced content on the internet.