France Top VPN, Legality, Stats, and Recommendations
While the EU is ahead of the rest of world when it comes to geoblocking, their work on digital privacy leaves a lot to be desired. Examine these nations one by one and you’ll find that France in particular has a troubling history with digital privacy rights – which is why you might consider using a VPN.
The State of VPN Usage in France
There are over 50 million Internet users in France. The average speed of an Internet connection is 8.2 Mbps, with the average peak speed reaching 38.9 Mbps. Of those, it’s estimated that 26 percent of people between 18-24 have used a VPN in the past 12 months, with the percentage decreasing for older generations. Still – if that many people are using a VPN to access the Internet, you have to wonder why.
Is it Legal to Use a VPN in France?
The short answer? Yes, it is legal to use a VPN in France.
The Big Brother Act (which I’ll cover later on) does a lot of things, including giving intelligence organizations the freedom to view your Internet activity. However, it does not forbid the use of a VPN while you’re in France. You can use a VPN to provide an additional layer of privacy and security.
There is a caveat to this. While VPNs are completely legal, if you do something illegal while using a VPN, the activity is still considered illegal. Using a VPN protects your privacy; it does not grant you immunity.
This leads to one important question: why do you need a VPN if you live in France?
A Quick History Lesson on Digital Privacy in France
To put it mildly, France’s history with digital privacy is complicated. Over the last two decades, we’ve seen dramatic swings: from granting organizations way too much access, to standing up for individual’s privacy. However, the ground is treacherous and subject to change, as you’ll quickly see. Even more worrisome is that it feels like French consumers are having their privacy stripped away a little bit at a time.
The Data Retention Directive
Our story starts in 2006 with the EU’s Data Retention Directive. This directive forced providers of publicly available communications services to retain certain data. The idea was that by retaining this data, various organizations and law enforcement could have access to the data if deemed necessary. Privacy advocates argued heavily against the directive, recognizing that it required providers to retain far more information than necessary.
Just how bad was this directive for France? It specified that French ISPs needed to track their customers’ web-browsing activities. This included monitoring which websites were visited, when they were accessed, and where emails were sent. The data was stored for one year and had to be readily available to various French law enforcement agencies.
Think about your Internet habits over the past week. Now imagine someone knowing every website you visited, how long you were on those websites, and where every email you sent was directed. Scary thought, isn’t it?
In 2014, the European Court of Justice recognized the gross breach of privacy and invalidated the Data Retention Directive.
But the victory was only temporary.
The “Big Brother” Act
In 2015, France approved a controversial bill known as the “Big Brother” act – named after the government surveillance program in George Orwell’s “1984”. Intelligence agencies were allowed to tap phones, emails, and hack computers – to say nothing of your Internet browsing data. The United Nations committee for human rights called the powers “excessively broad.”
Which brings us to today. France is part of the Nine Eyes – an assortment of nations that share information and intelligence with each other. Effectively, your information has the potential to be shared with other nations in this organization.
Why Use a VPN in France?
In France, your data is collected and retained for a one-year period. Various law enforcement agencies can access your data on an as-needed basis without requiring a warrant. While it’s unlikely that a random person will have a clandestine organization dig through their data, without a VPN, you’re leaving yourself exposed to the possibility. A high-quality VPN, however, encrypts your data and prevents it from being easily accessed – no matter who wants to see what you were doing.
France has also taken steps to block specific websites from general access, including The Pirate Bay. If you use a VPN that has a server outside of France, you’ll regain access to these websites.
Unfortunately, the government isn’t the only organization that might be interested in your data.
If you’ve ever sat at a café and enjoyed a cup of coffee while connecting to a public hotspot, you might have inadvertently put yourself at risk.
Hackers flock to popular locations and set up honeypots – fake WiFi hotspots that people accidentally connect to. Once you’re connected, the hacker can see anything you do. If you log on to your Facebook account, they can take your username and password. Log in to your bank account and they can save the information they need to give themselves access to your finances.
These honeypots are difficult to detect. Hackers will use the same SSID name, clone the MAC address, and boost their signal to overpower the legitimate hotspot. A VPN provides you with an encrypted tunnel that secures all traffic between your device and the server. This means that if you do connect to a honeypot, your data isn’t up for grabs.
Using a VPN also protects you from copyright trolls. These people monitor popular torrenting sites and wait for unsuspecting users to download the wrong torrent. Then, when you start using it, you get hit with (unenforceable) letters demanding settlement. It’s a predatory practice – copyright trolls make their income based on your desire to avoid a trial.
If you’re traveling away from France, there’s another, less scary reason why you should consider using a VPN. Several secure websites, including some banks, will require you to have a French IP address when you try to login. This is a security measure to prevent hackers from foreign countries from easily accessing your account. However, if you’re traveling to one of these countries and you don’t have a VPN, you might find yourself unable to access your own bank account.
Internet Speed and VPN Accessibility
The speed of an average Internet connection in France is 8.2Mb/s. Obviously, this varies slightly depending on the location and the type of connection. You’ve probably heard that using a VPN decreases your Internet speed. This is true – when you use a VPN, expect your connection speed to decrease between 20% and 50% depending on which VPN you choose (you’ll find some suggestions below).
Thousands of VPN servers are scattered throughout France and the EU, which means that no matter where you go, you’ll be able to access one. Keep in mind that different VPN services have access to different servers. When you choose which VPN service to use, be sure to select one that has a lot of servers available.
Between the French government’s concerning history with digital privacy and general security practices, there are many reasons you should use a VPN when you’re living in France. While it’s not a perfect security measure, it will protect your data from those who would love to dig through it and potentially use it against you.
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Detailed Information About French VPNs in 2020
Primary Official Language: French
Domain Extension: .fr
Local Google Domain: google.fr
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Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés
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