Verizon has rolled out a new product called Safe Wi-Fi, a VPN that provides a security stop gap for its mobile customers logging onto a public network. It’s also being marketed as a way to block ads.
So WTF is a VPN and why does it matter? A VPN is a virtual private network. It sits between a device in front of you and a server in a data center. Think of it as a tunnel that cloaks or hides your internet traffic from other folks on your local network. That open Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop can give advertisers and more nefarious types the ability to track your IP address. A VPN provides a secure connection between you and the server, and hides the IP address from prying eyes.
Safe Wi-Fi (check out the video below) costs $3.99 a month per account and is available to Verizon customers on Android and iOS. Safe Wi-Fi covers up to 10 devices on a single account.
Verizon customers can sign into My Verizon and go to the Products & Apps page, scroll to Safe Wi-Fi and then click “get it now” to subscribe. The Safe Wi-Fi feature is then added to their account. Customers can download the Safe Wi-Fi app from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store on their device and then follow the onscreen instruction to sign up with a one-month free promotion.
Users can turn on the “Ad Tracker Blocker” within the Safe Wi-Fi settings. The Ad Tracker Blocker prevents customers from ad network tracking while browsing the internet, and from ads generated from the device’s downloaded apps, according to Verizon’s FAQ page on the feature. In some cases, ads will be blocked entirely to prevent ad trackers from working. A gray image will replace the ad on the screen, Verizon says.
Websites that require ad trackers may be blocked, according to the company.
It’s important to remember that a VPN doesn’t eliminate the risk entirely. As TechCrunch reporter Romain Dillet notes, the risk just moves down the VPN tunnel. The person operating the server can see all unencrypted traffic. VPN companies might examine a customer’s browsing habit and sell them to advertisers, for example.
Update: Verizon’s notes in its FAQs that it does not monitor customers’ internet browsing history.
Disclosure: Verizon owns TechCrunch parent company Oath.