On the internet there appears to be a lot of confusion about when using a VPN or Tor is appropriate with many people being confused blatantly misleading VPN advertisements. That is not to say that a VPN is not useful as there are use cases that Tor sucks at.
What is a VPN useful for?
Getting past geo restrictions
Most people are willing to pay for the content they consume. The problem is that distribution companies are greedy and in the quest to increase profits will lock out users wanting to honestly access content with Geo restrictions.
Not long after the Geo blocking, people realised that they could use a VPN in a country where the blocking did not extend to (normally, the United States) but because of pressure from the distribution companies, streaming services soon started to block VPN IPs.
Many VPN services have evolved to setting up fake ISPs to sneak under the VPN blocking radar. Allowing users to access Geo blocked content.
Downloading “Linux ISO’s” without revealing your true IP address
Not everybody wants to or can pay for entertainment legally. This has meant that people have found a verity of ways to get; TV Shows, Movies, Games, etc… without having to pay for them.
One of the most popular ways to illegally download entertainment is using a peer-to-peer system like; BitTorrent, but as trouble with peer-to-peer systems is that in order for each “peer” to share chunks of a file for others to download, it is required that everyone involved knows each other’s IP addresses.
The problem with the required broadcasting of your IP address is that there is nothing stopping copyright owners from accessing the same Torrents as logging all the IPs in the swarm.
After capturing those IP addresses, what will often happen is that a company hired by the rights holder will use the copyright notification system to send a copyright infringement notice but will attach a settlement demand to that notice to scare people into passing over money, to avoid being sued for copyright infringement.
As most VPN at least claim to not log user traffic and share each IP address with many users, when someone illegally downloads something over BitTorrent using that VPN, a copyright money demand notice becomes nearly impossible to deliver and thus massively reduce the risk that comes with torrenting the latest TV shows or movies.
What is Tor useful for?
Protecting your Privacy
Many pro-VPN blogs will have you believe that using a commercial VPN service will make you anonymous online. When you have the NSA, GCHQ, FSB and other spy agencies spying on all internet cables it is impossible to guarantee anonymity.
Even though it is impossible to guarantee anonymity, there are things you can do to increase the level of anonymity you will have while online. There are ways of decreasing the chances of outsiders being able to find out what you are doing online.
This is where Tor comes into its own, as the Tor network passes your traffic between three nodes (guard, middle and exit for normal networks) and between six nodes if you are using a .onion website.
How the hops work is that the guard that you are connecting to the Tor network and the exit nodes knows the domain of a website being requested (with HTTPS) but does not know who is making the request for the webpage, because of the middle node passing the traffic between the guard and exit. This is a massive advantage compared to commercial VPN services who can see both what traffic is entering their network and what traffic is exiting their network.
On top of the network privacy advantages of the Tor network itself, the most common browser to access the network (Tor browser), has several security features that are not found in other websites to make internet browsing more secure, including anti-figure printing features.
Truly free proxy
On many app stores, you will see many companies offering free proxy services, the problem is that these services have to make money somehow and if you are not paying for a service with money, then you will pay with your personal data.
As the vast majority of Tor nodes are run by ordinary people and non-profit organisations, there is not the profit motive that free VPN services have to spy on users and sell their private information to advertisers or governments.
If you looking to protect your privacy online than you should avoid a VPN at all costs as the Tor network does a much better job at protecting your privacy, but if you are looking to download torrents or bypass geo-blocking,