NordVPN: It’s mid, not lit - Gen-Z users offer agency to free VPNs

It’s worth learning to speak Generation-Z slang, the older segment of this youth cohort is now in its early twenties and could soon be entering management.

Is it worrying then to find that almost half of Virtual Private Network (VPN) users who belong to Generation Z take a risk by using free VPNs?

Given the apparent proclivity this generation has for travel (they like cruises, often thought of as an older person’s pursuit) and the natural curiosity of the young, Gen-Z individuals will obviously want to keep in touch while on the road and possibly even perform online banking actions, which – as we know – are not safe on public WiFi networks without the use of a VPN.

Perhaps a decade ago, many would say that use of a VPN was the sole preserve of tech-savvy web users and geeks. Research from NordVPN suggests that today, as many as three-quarters of users in an average Western economy know what a VPN is.

However, a recent analysis also showed that Gen Z users (18-23 years old now, at the time of writing) typically use free VPNs, potentially exposing themselves to several privacy and security risks.

Not lit, it’s mid

If this is the post-millennial generation that’s considered the most digitally active, perhaps this is not lit (Gen-Z speak for cool, generally positive or the new hotness) and a practice that should not be given the agency that it has by some, which means it’s actually quite definitely ‘mid’ (i.e. mediocre, uncool and not very good) right? 

Interestingly, Gen-Y millennials (23-35 years old) have some of the best VPN usage habits. This group typically uses paid VPNs with the intention of gaining more online privacy.

“It is alarming that the generation that uses the Internet the most values their privacy online the least. Free VPNs don’t charge monthly or yearly fees, making them seem like an attractive option. However, these services still have to make money, so they often end up tracking and selling user data to third parties,” said Adrianus Warmenhoven, a cybersecurity advisor at NordVPN.

NordVPN’s annual VPN usage analysis was conducted in 18 countries this year and is commissioned to help discover and understand VPN usage habits. 

Don’t ‘pay with your data’

A typical VPN user is male and between 25 and 44 years old. Two out of five (43.0%) VPN users use one to protect their online privacy and a third (33.0%) of users connect to VPNs to keep their devices and online accounts secure.

“It is important to choose reliable paid VPN services to make sure you don’t pay with your data instead of money. Also, remember that VPNs have many advantages, including browsing privately online, using public Wi-Fi safely, or even saving money on holiday bookings,” says Warmenhoven.

For those who don’t use VPNs, Warmenhoven reminds us to use impenetrable passwords and use different passwords for each user account and store your passwords in an encrypted password manager. He says we should make sure our passwords consist of at least 20 letters, numbers and symbols.

The survey was commissioned by NordVPN and conducted by an external agency between August 2020 and March 2023. A total of 151,400 respondents were surveyed across 18 countries. The respondents were asked questions about VPN awareness and usage. Quotas were placed on age, gender and place of residence to achieve a nationally representative sample among Internet users.

Image source: NordVPN










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