Nowadays, everything you do online is recorded. It may be your government or your ISP (Internet Service Provider); every page you browse, every search you type is recorded. And even if you don't have anything to hide, do you like to be constantly spied over? What would happen if all your private data landed in the wrong hands?
A VPN tries to answer all this questions by protecting your privacy online. But what is exactly a VPN? How does it protect you on the web?
First, VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, that is to say, a private network over the internet. Basically, it's an encrypted tunnel between your internet device (PC, smartphone, tablet...) and a remote server. This remote server fetches web pages and content for you, exposing its IP address instead of yours. In other words, it hides your unique identifiable identity with its own.
Typically, VPN servers are located offshore and are shared among a large number of users. Consequently, your browsing activity will be mixed with the browsing of the other users. As a result, it will be hard to link your browsing activity back to you.
Of course, you could ask yourself: "why would I need a super-secured tunnel just for my browsing?". Chances are that you use the web not only to research information online, but also to communicate with friends and family, to do shopping, to manage your bank account or even your business. If you use an insecure network, for example, an open Wi-Fi hotspot, all your personal data, searches, and everything you do online will be transmitted in clear text or with poor encryption, thus leaving it visible to the prying eyes of hackers.
Moreover, a VPN service allows you to access resources which are censored or inaccessible in your own country. For example, if you connect to a VPN server located in the United States, you can access websites that are reserved for local users, such as streaming websites.
As a consequence, a VPN can also be used behind a restrictive firewall to access blocked content.
Furthermore, VPNs can be used to protect your torrent traffic. When you are downloading a torrent, your IP address is exposed to anyone in the swarm, thus making it easy to identify your downloads and send you a DMCA notice. A VPN will hide your IP address with its own, protecting your true identity.
Finally, in some cases, a VPN can make your connection even faster, by eliminating ISP-imposed throttles and bad peering issues. Sometimes, your transit to a streaming website can be voluntarily limited by your ISP; with a VPN you will bypass your ISP's DNS resolvers and its limitations.
To sum up, a VPN is a secure tunnel between you and a server which allows you to browse the web with more privacy, security and freedom.