In the last ten years, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have gone from being a largely unknown privacy tool used by a minority of tech savvy individuals and business owners, to an increasingly popular security product used by average consumers. According to a recent study by top10VPN, by 2020, 31% of internet users worldwide made use of a VPN, with the highest growth seen in Asia Pacific and the Middle East and Africa. 35% of all VPN users reside in the Middle East and Africa.


While the uptake has no doubt resulted from remote workers requiring the added layer of online security since the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of users have sought the software to access geo-blocked content. With the rise in streaming services, such as the ever-popular Netflix, more online users are seeking to access content available in other countries — mainly the United States and the United Kingdom. 


Along with access to unrestricted content, the report found that speed and quality of the VPN connection is more of priority than a company’s privacy policy for users when choosing a VPN provider. This correlates with the finding that everyday users are using the software for streaming, and are looking for a fast and seamless experience.


While users seemingly aren’t phased about a company’s privacy policy, the main reason for choosing a VPN is for privacy. A VPN is seen first and foremost as a tool to enhance browsing privacy online. The report shows that the main cause of concern is the fear of data threats from cybercriminals or hackers, followed by government and social media companies.


These findings make it clear that users are becoming increasingly aware of the types and amount of data mining that takes place, and are taking steps to curb this trend. 


While countries with more stringent censorship laws have seen a rapid uptake in VPN usage, South Africa has seen a marked increase since 2017. The report shows that 37% of all internet users have used a VPN in the last month, with the software seeing growth of 16% since 2017. 


With the global pandemic still very much in full swing, and remote work the new normal for many, VPN software provides a number of uses to online browsers today. From securing data on public networks, to opening up access to geo-blocked content, and even speeding up online streaming and gaming services, VPNs have clearly become a more mainstream piece of software in South Africa and abroad. The global Virtual Private Network market is forecast to reach 75.59 billion U.S. dollars by 2027.