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Pay as little as $1 to conquer full stack coding

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full stackRoll up! Roll up! It’s pay-what-you-want time! A PWYW deal on The Full Stack Web Development Bundle just landed on the our doormat this morning, and it’s a great opportunity to become a real coding all-rounder.

‘Full stack’ doesn’t sound bombastic, but in terms of coding it’s actually the most versatile approach to take. Full stack just means that you handle all aspects of app or website development. Front end, back end, databasing, debugging, etc. You don’t have a niche; you’ve got all the clubs in your bag.

The Full Stack Web Development Bundle contains eight separate learning kits to mould you into this jack-of-all-trades coder. But just because you’re learning all the facets, doesn’t mean you’re only dipping your toe in each. Over 122 hours of interactive instruction and tutorials sees to that.

Full stack

You’ll get a solid understanding of several languages and coding environments, including JavaScript, ReactJS, JQuery, Flux, MongoDB, PHP, Ruby on Rails, and more. Don’t worry if it sounds like jargon now, these are all just tools to assist you in crafting beautiful websites and apps.

Whether you take on the bundle as a hobby or for lucrative employment prospects, you’re going to come out the other end with significant expertise.

Here’s the full stack rundown:


That’s $476 of retail value, but you can pay as little as $1 if that’s all you feel like chipping in. Whatever you pay, you’ll get Projects in HTML5 which is a $49 value course. If you walk away with that you haven’t done badly.

If you beat the current average price (and it’s displayed, so you don’t need to guess) then you get the whole bundle. Simple as that. At the time of writing the average was just over $10. It seems crazy cheap, but if they sell it to 10,000 people they get their bounty too. That’s the beauty of digital media.

One other thing: If you beat the current leader you’ll even be in a draw for an ‘epic’ giveaway. The thing of epicness seems to be a mystery at this stage, so we can’t advise you if it’s worth winning. Depends if you’re feeling lucky.

The nature of these deals means the the average price gradually goes up. So jump in early to get the best deal. Find the offer via the button below.

The AAPicks team writes about things we think you’ll like, and we may see a share of revenue from any purchases made through affiliate links. To see all our hottest deals, head over to the AAPICKS HUB.


Looking for a new phone or plan? Start here with the Android Authority Plan Tool:

This smart tool lets you filter plans by phone, price, data tiers, and regional availability. Stop overpaying for cell service you hate and a phone that you’re tired of. Use our Compare Phones & Plans tool to fully customize your mobile experience and painlessly transition from one carrier to another!


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Smartphone photography tips: 16 handy tricks you should know

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Smartphone photography tips.

Smartphone cameras have improved dramatically in the last few years, owing to better sensors and smarter image processing. Heck, the multi-camera revolution has also yielded better zoom and depth-of-field effects hitherto unknown to smartphone photography.

Nevertheless, having a great camera is only part of the battle. The rest is up to the photographer holding it, so we take a look at a few smartphone photography tips you should know.

Take a ton of photos…

The HTC U11.

Back in 2014, I managed to attend a mobile photography workshop by NatGeo’s Stephen Alvarez. And one of the biggest takeaways was also one of the most obvious smartphone photography tips in hindsight.

The difference between a good and average photographer often boils down to sheer volume of photos taken, he said. After all, there have to be a few decent snaps after shooting 300 photos, right?

So next time you take a photo, hit the shutter button a few more times for good measure. And thanks to the excellent backup functionality of Google Photos, those snaps don’t have to clog up your internal storage. Slightly changing your position, focal point or angle as you fire off photos will also give you more options than two dozen of the exact same shot.

Then try burst mode or record in 4K

Burst photos as seen on a Samsung phone.

Some phones, like Samsung devices, group all burst shots into one collection.

Burst mode is seriously handy for photos of kids, group shots (there’s always someone asking for another shot), and subjects with plenty of movement like sports or pets. Some phones also allow you to easily keep a few snaps and ditch the rest of the burst, which is a rather useful touch.

Android Authority and DroneRush writer Jonathan Feist also suggests you try shooting a 4K video and picking a frame that you want to use as a photo. After all, 4K screengrabs are just over 8MP. The easiest way to do this is to tap the camera shutter button while filming. But a few preinstalled video players (like Samsung’s) allow you to grab the frame while it’s playing back the clip.

Don’t have that functionality on your phone? Then try a third-party app like AndroVid.

Learn all about your camera app…

The Honor 8 Pro.

This one is from our own Robert Triggs, and it’s one of the more underrated smartphone photography tips. Whether you’ve got a new phone or an older device, it’s worth spending the time to visit every nook and cranny of your camera app. After all, you’ll never seriously improve your smartphone photography if all you do is shoot in full auto.

One example Robert gives is Huawei’s camera app, which allows you to tap to focus, then drag your finger from the focus box to set exposure. We also see other features like Nokia’s bothie mode and Samsung’s downloadable camera modes (accessible by tapping the plus icon in the camera mode menu). Sometimes it’s as simple as jumping into a preset camera mode like light painting.

Or download another app

The Open Camera app.

The preinstalled camera app isn’t necessarily the be-all-and-end-all for your smartphone. In fact, there are loads of third-party camera apps on the Play Store.

Editor's Pick

These apps can potentially give you everything from granular controls to more advanced modes. Looking for a camera with manual controls and a histogram? Then try Footej Camera. Need a selfie-focused app? Then give Candy Camera a whirl. Even if you don’t care for the features, the third-party apps might just spit out better photos.

Regular readers might also know about the unofficial Google Camera HDR+ camera app. This isn’t supported by Google or in the Play Store, but it’s certainly a fantastic app (if it works on your phone). Another app worth checking out is Open Camera.

Do you really need the flash?

The LG G4.

Smartphones have made big strides in the low-light photography department, so you won’t always need the flash in these situations. All too often the flash can ruin what would otherwise have been a nice shot.

In fact, many of today’s flagship phones are capable of great shots without the flash. So the next time you find yourself taking a photo at dusk or indoors, try a few with a flash and several without.

You’ll certainly encounter a few moments in low-light where the flash is the only option, but again, it doesn’t hurt to experiment. Just remember, many pro photographers intentionally shoot darker photos, because they can always bring the shadows up in post, but can’t do much with blown out areas. Dark, moody images can also be much more evocative than floodlit ones.

Learn when/how to use the sun

A photo of the sun.

Another rule of thumb is that you should try not to shoot into the sun when taking photos of people. There are exceptions to this, of course, such as if you want to create silhouettes or just want to experiment. Nevertheless, try to have the sun lighting up your subjects/objects, rather than directly hitting your camera.

Speaking of the sun, you’ll also want to take photos during the so-called golden hours (just after sunrise or just before sunset). Do this and you’re likely to get some gorgeous colors. Heck, everyone knows that the sunset itself makes for a wonderful snap too, so you can’t go wrong there. You can also try alternating between focusing on the horizon and on the sky to get some really popping colors.

Turn on your grid for the rule of thirds

One of the basic smartphone photography tips is to learn this rule. The rule of thirds calls for you to divide your camera viewfinder into nine sections. This can be accomplished by enabling the camera grid on your smartphone and if your phone doesn’t have the option, you can pretty easily eyeball it.

From here, the rule basically dictates that subjects/objects should ideally be positioned at the intersection points of these lines. It’s a great starting point (and the grid also helps you keep things straight) but rules are meant to be broken, aren’t they?

So obviously trying to abide by the rule helps, but don’t let that deter you from messing about with framing however you like. Unconventional framing can make a huge difference to the impact of your photos, so don’t be afraid to get whacky. As you may have guessed, the rule of thirds generally goes out the window when using an Instagram square crop too.

Play around with HDR

A comparison between an HDR image (R) and a standard photo.

A comparison between an HDR image (R) and a standard photo. Note the detail in the clouds in the HDR shot.

Virtually every phone on the market has an HDR mode, combining multiple exposures to form a better image. In taking this approach, you get more details in the shadows and in the bright parts of the scene. Some phones enable auto HDR while others leave them as a preset somewhere in the camera app (we’re looking at you Huawei!).

HDR works best with landscapes and city scenes, where the combination of bright skies and dark shadows can make for undesirable results otherwise. Fail to turn on HDR and your phone camera might blow out the bright sky or black out any details in the shadows.

HDR modes have made huge leaps in speed over the years, and with the advent of AI cameras, you can’t always tell the difference between taking HDR and a standard photo on some phones. But many budget phones still require you to be perfectly still for a moment, unless you want a ghosted/blurry image.

Google’s Pixel phones show that HDR photography (more specifically, the HDR+ mode) can also be useful for delivering great night-time shots. So the mode isn’t necessarily limited to daytime scenes.

Get acquainted with manual mode

The pro mode on a Samsung phone.

Called manual or pro mode, this can look like one of the most complicated features for the uninitiated. But aside from reading about it, one of the easiest ways to learn all about manual mode is to spend time with it (this is usually a separate mode in your camera app).

As a quick primer, shutter speed controls how long your camera shutter is open for; longer is better in the dark, but you need to keep your camera still. Meanwhile, ISO is a measure of light sensitivity. A lower ISO setting is better during the day, while higher is better in darker situations. Going too high leads to visible noise or grain in your photos. Aperture is simply how big the hole in the shutter is that lets light through the lens onto the sensor.

Editor's Pick

ISO, exposure and aperture adjustments form the all-important exposure triangle; so adjusting one setting can often result in the need to adjust another. Aside from devices like the Galaxy K Zoom and Asus Zenfone Zoom, smartphones don’t let you make aperture adjustments, but learning about the triangle is a must-know if you want the ultimate smartphone photography tip.

Just remember that a longer shutter speed translates into more blur if the phone isn’t absolutely still. Find a low wall to brace the phone on and hold your breath to keep things as blur-free as possible. Propping your phone up on something and using the timer can also remove any potential camera shake. Or you could try the next tip…

Get a tripod for long exposure/light painting shots

A long exposure shot using a tripod.

This shot, taken with the Huawei P9, gives you an idea of what to expect when using a mobile tripod and the light painting feature.

Long exposure shots can be really beautiful, capturing light trails and other details in the darkness like the movement of the night sky. This generally requires the camera shutter to be open for a while, which will inevitably result in blur if you’re not 100 percent still. Some phones like the Huawei P20 Pro use AI stabilization to let you take up to four-second handheld long exposures.

One of the best solutions for the rest of us is to purchase a mobile tripod, allowing you to get perfectly stabilized long exposure images. These can be acquired from the likes of Amazon for around $15 or so. Heck, even if you don’t plan to do light trail shots, a mobile tripod can be handy if your phone is susceptible to blur at night. Get one with bendy legs and you can wrap it around a pole or a fence and use the timer for more scenic group shots, or use it to extend your reach for wider-angle selfies.

Use focus peaking if you have it

Focus peaking on a Samsung phone.

Note the green colors on the petal edges, giving you a quick guide to areas in focus.

Sticking with the manual-related tricks, the use of focus peaking is another one of our favorite smartphone photography tips. It’s a feature found in the manual mode of newer LG and Samsung phones (to name a few), and it can be massively helpful.

Simply put, focus peaking outlines well-focused areas of your scene in a bright color to make your focal point easily visible. It essentially tells you exactly where the camera is focusing – not just on your subject but also on other objects in the same focal plane. You’ll want to use this in conjunction with manual focusing in manual/pro camera modes.

Wipe the lens before shooting that snap

The Google Pixel 2.

Lenses often play second fiddle to other smartphone features such as aperture, sensor size and secondary cameras. But they’re another important factor when it comes to great photos, as low quality or smudged lenses can ruin a shot.

So that’s why AA writer Scott Gordon‘s tip is to always give it a wipe before taking a picture. Of course, your sleeve isn’t the best option, so we’d suggest a micro-fiber or lint-free cloth. Once you get into the habit of wiping your lens automatically you’ll be surprised how many more usable shots you get.

Use Google Photos’ auto-fix option

Google Photos offers an autofix option.

The differences aren’t huge here (the auto-fix image is on the right) but Google’s auto-fix does a good job in general.

Google Photos is more than just a photo backup service, as it has a variety of photo editing tools as well. These tools allow you to adjust everything from lighting and colors to orientation and crops.

Nevermind all these adjustments, though, because one of the best smartphone photography tips is to simply use the “auto” fix option (hit the edit option, then tap “auto”). Do this, and you should instantly get some aesthetically pleasing adjustments to your otherwise drab snap.

Or download a different photo editor

A screenshot, showing Snapseed.

Google Photos does have plenty of editing options, but it doesn’t hurt to download another editing app. In fact, our own Nick Fernandez says he’s a huge fan of the Snapseed app (seen above).

The editor has a ton of features, ranging from RAW editing and S-curves support to healing tools and white balance. And it has the usual filter, cropping and auto-fix options too.

Need a few more apps? Then you can check out our list of the 15 best photo editor apps for 2018.

Remember you can crop

Cropping an image in Google Photos.

I don’t know about you lot, but I had this weird aversion to cropping when I first started taking photos with my smartphone. I think it was because many early smartphone cameras were pretty low resolution or just looked horribly noisy in less than favorable conditions. Nevertheless, one of the more obvious smartphone photography tips is to merely crop your shot after taking it.

Today’s smartphones are pretty capable and pack enough sheer megapixels to handle basic cropping. So don’t be afraid to shoot wider than you want and then crop in on the end result. If you weren’t thinking about the rule of thirds at the time you took the shot, you can often get better framing just by cropping later.

Add a few diagonal lines to your image

Interior photo showing the use of diagonal lines

Diagonal lines can really help draw your eye into the image.

It’s not one of the most obvious smartphone photography tips, but fellow AA colleague Felix Mangus suggests looking out for diagonal lines. Keep an eye out for things like roads, painted lines and buildings running diagonally when taking your snap, as they’ll add depth to your photo. Getting yourself in the right postiion to take proper advantage of those lines can also help direct the viewer’s eye towards your subject.

You can also try tilting your camera 45 degrees, so roads, buildings and other subjects are running diagonally. Who says you have to shoot straight all the time? Why not get crazy and try shooting reflections in a puddle and the flipping the resulting image upside down? Remember, these tips are not etched in stone, but hopefully, they’ll help you think outside the box and try some new things with your smartphone photography!

Have you got any other great smartphone photography tips for us? Let us know in the comments section below!



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Microsoft Outlook now lets you block external images

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Microsoft Outlook has gained the option to block external images in emails. While this might seem like a minor tweak, it can be helpful for privacy-minded users, as images can be used to track whether emails have been read — valuable information for spammers.

Here's the changelog:

You can choose to block external images in emails. Turn this on by going to Settings and tapping on the account where you'd like it enabled.
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Microsoft Outlook now lets you block external images was written by the awesome team at Android Police.



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[Free Alert] Ariana Grande and The Beach Boys albums are gratis on Google Play Music (probably US-only)

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Google Play Music used to offer free albums every few weeks. It looked like a win-win for everyone: people could get some free tunes, and Play Music would attract people who might not have used the service otherwise. Perhaps Google didn't feel that it was worth doing anymore, as we hadn't seen anything of the sort for over two years. But now, albums from Ariana Grande and The Beach Boys are just $0 from Play Music.

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[Free Alert] Ariana Grande and The Beach Boys albums are gratis on Google Play Music (probably US-only) was written by the awesome team at Android Police.



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5 Android apps you shouldn’t miss this week! – Android Apps Weekly

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This is the featured image for Android Apps Weekly on June 23rd, 2018
Welcome to the 249th Android Apps Weekly! Here are the big headlines from the last week:

  • Instagram is launching a new video service. IGTV will put a focus on portrait mode video and longer form content. Videos have a 60 minute limit and creators can do whatever they want to do. This is obviously to compete with other video services like YouTube and Facebook’s video platform. The portrait mode video is likely to keep things in tune with the rest of the app. We’ll see how it turns out.
  • Pokemon Quest is available for pre-registration on Google Play right now. The launch date is June 28th. Thus, we don’t have a long time to wait. The game is by Game Freak, the same developers of the main Pokemon games on the Nintendo 3DS platform. This is their first foray into the mobile landscape. It’s not a normal Pokemon game. It has simple controls and mobile style game play. However, it should be relatively popular anyway.
  • YouTube Music officially launched in the U.S. and 16 other countries this week. We also now have some final numbers in terms of prices. YouTube Music is $9.99 per month, although new subscribers get three months for free. This also marks the official re-branding of YouTube Red to YouTube Premium. It still has a long way to go before it competes with bigger services like Google Play Music, Spotify, Apple Music and others. This is a semi-decent start, though.
  • Tinder’s owner, Match, swiped left on Hinge this week. Jokes are funny. Anyway, the dating service giant purchased a 51% stake in Hinge, making it the majority owner. With it, Match now owns over 45 dating services. That’s a bit of a monopoly. In any case, Hinge uses the old school profile system instead of the swipe system. Reports show that Bumble is the only major dating service left not owned by Match.
  • Facebook is adding video ads to Facebook Messenger soon. The announcement stated that ads would roll out gradually and thoughtfully. However, considering that video ads are the least enjoyed ad platform next to pop-up ads, the idea that any of this is thoughtful is a little bit laughable. In any case, Facebook wants to monetize your private messages, something it has tried in the past with static advertising. We’re not all that comfortable with ads in our personal messaging space, but it is what it is.

Knights Chronicle

Price: Freemium
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Knights Chronicle is another new mobile RPG with an anime theme. It has a lot of parallels with other Japanese mobile RPGs. That includes a character collection system, a campaign mode, various weekly and monthly events, and more. Unlike most, this one has a portrait mode and a landscape mode. Those who like the genre will probably enjoy this game as well. Those who don't like freemium gacha games may want to skip this one.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY

DLive

Price: Free
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
DLive is a new video streaming service. It uses a decentralized, blockchain system for streaming. It caters mostly to gamers right now. They have a variety of live streamers and similar creative types. Those creators earn money via cryptocurrency and the service boasts no fees for those creators. It's a neat idea and they have over 500,000 active users at the moment. We're not sure about cryptocurrency as a form of payment, but everything else about it is pretty good. The app is entirely free with no in-app purchases.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
DLive

Westworld

Price: Freemium
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
The official Westworld game is available on Google Play now. It's a city-building sim where players build their own Westworld. It features a bunch of characters from the show, over 170 other characters, an upgrade mechanic, and more. The graphics fit the premise quite well. At its core, it's a freemium cash grab for fans of the show. However, the game is actually fun, at least until the freemium grind kicks in. Fans of the show and city-builder sims should enjoy this one. Those who dislike freemium games almost certainly won't.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY

Google Podcasts

Price: Free
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Google Podcasts is the biggest app release this week. It uses its Google Play Music podcast backbone for a standalone app experience. You get the basic stuff like faster playback speeds, skipping, and it remembers where you left off on other devices. It also has Google Assistant integration. There are some organizational flaws and it's definitely not better than some big names out there like Pocket Casts or Doggcatcher. However, we expect Google to improve the app as it ages.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Google Podcasts

Evoland 2

Price: $9.99 (on sale for $5.99 at the time of this writing)
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Evoland 2 is the next game in the popular franchise. It features a variety of game mechanics and play styles, including action-adventure, puzzle, classic arcade fighter, top-down shooter, side-scrolling platformer, and others. It's an ode to the old school gaming industry much like its predecessor. It also boasts decent graphics (although they do change frequently), 20 hours of game play, external controller support, Nvidia Shield optimizations, and more. You can get it for $9.99, but it's on sale for $5.99 right now. There are no additional in-app purchases or advertisements.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY

10 best podcast apps for Android

Podcasts seem to be making a return as a main source of information gathering in the age of the Internet. It's a great way to listen to experts talk about the topics you care about …

15 best simulation games for Android

Simulation games are one of the most expansive and popular game genres the world over. It's also one of the most popular on mobile because the controls work very well on touch screens. They're easy …

If we missed any big Android apps or games news, tell us about it in the comments!



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13 new and notable (and 1 WTF) Android apps and live wallpapers from the last two weeks including Google Podcasts, Adobe Spark Post, and IGTV (6/10/18 - 6/23/18)

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roundup_icon_largeWelcome to the roundup of the best new Android applications and live wallpapers that went live in the Play Store or were spotted by us in the previous two weeks or so. Today we have some of the biggest players out there including the likes of Google, Adobe, Instagram, and Yahoo. Heck, I even have a live wallpaper and a WTF listing to round out the list. So get ready because these are the most notable Android apps released in the last two weeks.

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13 new and notable (and 1 WTF) Android apps and live wallpapers from the last two weeks including Google Podcasts, Adobe Spark Post, and IGTV (6/10/18 - 6/23/18) was written by the awesome team at Android Police.



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Google app v8.9.9 beta prepares search bar for settings and corrects mismatched Podcast icon [APK Teardown]

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Google is rolling out its first significant update since launching Podcasts this week. For the most part, this appears to be primarily a bug fix and polishing release. There are little tweaks here and there related to Podcasts, including a corrected icon. There's also the start of a search feature for settings so people won't have to wander through several screens to configure the app as they want it.

Podcasts icon

Left: v8.8.

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Google app v8.9.9 beta prepares search bar for settings and corrects mismatched Podcast icon [APK Teardown] was written by the awesome team at Android Police.



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Malaysian CEO reportedly killed in his sleep by exploding smartphone

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Nazrin Hassan, CEO of Malaysian venture capital firm Cradle Fund, reportedly died of injuries caused when his cell phone exploded as he slept. The cause of death was initially said to be smoke inhalation — but according to a statement released by Cradle, Hassan died of "complication of blast injuries attributable to an exploding hand phone." It's not currently clear what type of phone was involved.

The Malaysian Insight reports that a "message from the family that has been circulating on social media" stated Hassan had two phones, one BlackBerry device and one Huawei.

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Malaysian CEO reportedly killed in his sleep by exploding smartphone was written by the awesome team at Android Police.



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What can VPNs do with your data?

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Using public wifi without a VPN is bad news

A virtual private network (VPN) is one of the best and increasingly essential security tools to protect your data and your privacy.

Whether for accessing a streaming video, a webpage blocked in your country, or to use the web more securely while on public Wi-Fi, a VPN offers plenty of value.

But not all VPNs are created equal — some are downright shady. Universities in Australia, with the help of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), studied 283 Android VPN apps and found 38 percent injected malware or malvertising, an astonishingly bad result for apps meant to protect you — and these are just the bad actors.

A further 18 percent bizarrely didn’t encrypt users’ traffic at all, leaving users exposed. Despite this, the report found less than 1 percent of users had “any security or privacy concerns about these apps.”

It’s a jungle out there, and a frightening one at that.

Don’t worry. We’re here to help you figure out how to use a VPN, and explain both security and privacy features.

If you’d like to start with understanding how a VPN works, check out Android Authority’s own Gary Sims’ video. It’s an invaluable lesson on how a VPN works.

To seriously review the privacy of your VPN, head over to ipleak.net as a basic starting point. For more detailed information you can review tools and techniques from ExpressVPN’s privacy lab.

You have no privacy if you use a free VPN

Privacy and a free VPN just don’t go together. Free VPNs might look ok if you’re desperate, but we’d never recommend using one. Your data is the cost of use, and it can be even worse than that as well.

Hola is a popular free VPN. It works by routing data through a peer-to-peer network, rather than using their servers. If you use the service, it routes other people’s data through your local router and IP address. It’s great if you want to act like you’re from Australia, but if someone routes dodgy data through your connection, you might be liable for any consequences. It’s almost impossible to prove to an outsider examining your connection it didn’t come from you.

Another decidedly unethical “free” VPN model is offering a free service that examines all the data you use on your phone. It’s how Facebook waged war on Snapchat. The social media juggernaut purchased Onavo, the Tel Aviv-based VPN company that developed an app for Android and iOS ironically called Protect, which we won’t link here, that collects data from users who install it. This data included how much the Snapchat app was in use.

The Wall Street Journal reported Facebook knew about Snapchat’s slowing user growth “months before” the information was publicly disclosed.

It’s an incredible breach of trust; download a VPN to mask your data and protect your privacy, and instead hand all that information straight to Facebook. Of course, the privacy policy of Onavo made allowances for this, but the amount of users who only use an app after reading a privacy policy is vanishingly small.

These are just a few examples of how free VPNs can be problematic. If you’re at all serious about privacy and data protection, free VPNs are not compatible.

Privacy and paid VPNs

Just like free VPNs, there are a lot of paid options and it can be challenging to understand exactly what you need and what you’re getting. Price is also an influencing factor, of course.

Often we are swayed by deals or a Black Friday offer, but there’s more to it than that. Your VPN choice starts with what you want it for, and which VPNs match this.

Even legally done torrenting is disabled by the well-known service TunnelBear.

TunnelBear VPN best security apps for android

TunnelBear doesn’t mention you can’t use torrents, but if you just want to browser from another country, that might not be an issue.

Others might log all your data, which could be harmful if you live in a place with censorship, or have aggressive services which attempt to extort money from you for file-sharing.

What a VPN can do with your data comes down to its business policies, which aren’t always obvious and often require closely reading the terms of service and privacy policy of that company. Europe’s landmark General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) brought some upheaval as it forced many online businesses to update their privacy policies — and not just European ones.

Here are the key considerations that emerge from the depths of the Terms of Service and Privacy Policies.

What happens when your VPN connection leaks, or drops out?

If you’re browsing and your VPN connection leaks, cuts out, or drops, you’re at risk.

Leak checkers are also important because they monitor for problems like a DNS or WebRTC leak. Better VPNs will also provide tools for you to check if all your data is going through the provided VPN tunnel. To seriously review the privacy of your VPN, head over to ipleak.net as a basic starting point. For more detailed information you can review tools and techniques from ExpressVPN’s privacy lab.

For connection dropouts, better VPNs offer a “kill switch” or network monitor to constantly check your connection and halt all data if the VPN connection has dropped out. A kill switch is mandatory, and better VPNs will offer customizable kill switch configurations to fine-tune operations.

Your VPN must offer a kill switch, otherwise disconnects will leave you without security

Why does this matter? According to The Daily Beast, a notorious hacker known as Guccifer 2.0 was exposed as working from Russia (not from Romania as claimed), when they either forgot to turn on their VPN client before logging in to social media, or their VPN dropped out during connection.

It’s also important to have your VPN use connections based on the OpenVPN protocol. This is a technical area, but the short story is that this open-source protocol is superior to the PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols which are commonly used, due to security flaws and other disadvantages. The best will use OpenVPN with at least AES 256-bit encryption and with in-house DNS servers as well. Tick that box.

VPN privacy: Data logging

VPNs that log your data may choose to do so for their own gain, like those terrible free VPNs, or they may be forced to log for other reasons, like some kind of restrictive country law.

If privacy is your concern, avoiding VPNs that log ensures you aren’t defeating the purpose of securing your data at the first hurdle. Some VPNs claim not to log anything and then still do it anyway. These VPNs may say they don’t store any data logs, but by law must retain connection logs, which might be able to show something about your perfectly normal movements or whereabouts. The country of origin for a VPN will tell you more, though laws change rapidly. Panama doesn’t require logs, nor does Hong Kong.

Connection or download limits? That's a log, so be careful if you need a zero-log VPN.

A big clue is in the nature of the kind of offer a VPN will make to customers. If they enforce connection or download limits on subscriptions, they must be keeping some kind of connection logs. It’s the only way they can manage this.

Therefore, it’s essential to review respective terms and privacy policies.

Here are some of the better VPNs and their policies:

Express VPN: Privacy Policy, Terms of Service

NordVPN: Privacy Policy, Terms of Service

Each of these services is explicit about not storing your data. Take ExpressVPN:

We do not collect logs of your activity, including no logging of browsing history, traffic destination, data content, or DNS queries. We also never store connection logs, meaning no logs of your IP address, your outgoing VPN IP address, connection timestamp, or session duration.

All of those areas are key concerns for any user. In fact, those companies  both even cover what data they need in their privacy policy, such as basic registration details like an email address for a registered account. Your payment information is also worth considering.

Payment info: Another important piece of your data

Now, if you are handing over your payment information to pay for your VPN service, much of your anonymity can be lost. Not all payment options are the same, and it’s really only possible to guard your information using Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency, cash, or gift cards purchased through another service.

If your payment details are being stored, you're leaving yourself open yet again.

Most VPNs will use a third-party payment portal, which means they won’t get your data, but another linked party will. You’ll need to go and read the payment service’s terms of service and privacy policy too if you want to know how it uses your data. In short, if you’re only able to pay with credit card or Paypal, some information will be collected and stored for minimum periods.

Paying with crypto limits this; it generally only requires an email address. Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN offer this, though IPVanish does not.

The Lip Service problem

Unfortunately, over the years, many VPNs have said one thing and done another. It’s part of the territory of VPNs — not just looking at what they claim, but reading the fine print as well. HideMyAss was infamously embroiled in a dispute with Anonymous after allegedly giving up a LulzSec member. PureVPN went through a similar issue where the company assisted the FBI in a cyberstalking case. These are just two of the higher profile cases over the years.

Last week it also emerged that IPVanish had given up logs to the FBI as well.

IPVanish, under then parent company Highwinds Network Group, appears to have released logs sometime in 2016, before the service was acquired by  the operator StackPath in 2017, approximately seven months later.

However, IPVanish claims it is a zero-logs VPN service provider, and always has been. Note the wording used in 2016. It’s a simple claim, and an important one.

Yet Highwinds Network Group did provide user information to an FBI criminal investigation regarding alleged child pornography in 2016. Leaving aside the obviously heinous morality, the VPN parent company provided the very information that the VPN said they didn’t log.

How could they if they keep zero logs?

As noted, this has happened before with other VPNs, who insist they’ve responded in line with their privacy policies. Many providers keep IP logs to show connections, connection times, amounts downloaded, and which country the VPN connected to. Most of that is required just to be able to provide you a support service if something goes wrong, or for engineers to watch in the case of tracking unexpected downtime. It’s metadata about your connection.

VPNs may also be coerced by law enforcement via a National Security Letter, or NSL, to log user accounts. It’s not always clear when that’s the case, but the court complaint doesn’t seem to suggest that.

The problem is when a VPN markets itself as one thing, and then behaves as another.

StackPath CEO Lance Crosby made two posts on Reddit in response to the claims, although those posts are at this stage made by an unverified account. In response to emailed questions from us, StackPath Vice President, Product & Marketing Jeremy Palmer further clarified the company’s position.

We are glad you asked. That incident was from 2016 – long before StackPath acquired IPVanish in 2017. IPVanish does not, has not, and will not, log or store logs of our users as a StackPath company. I can’t speak to what happened on someone else’s watch, and that management team is long gone. But know this – in addition to not logging, StackPath will defend the privacy of our users, regardless of who demands otherwise.

It’s difficult to know what’s happened with IPVanish, and hard to blame StackPath for an incident outside of its ownership or control. Ultimately, it shows VPN usage is only a deterrent. It’s a good option for protecting yourself on public Wi-Fi, preventing websites from tracking you, or stopping your ISP from tracking you while you’re streaming or downloading.

It’s clearly not enough if you want to prevent governments actors from tracking you, you probably shouldn’t be doing whatever that very bad thing is at all, let alone doing it online, and a VPN is no guarantee of protection against the long arm of the law.

I want to be secure and not use a VPN

As we’ve shown, using a VPN isn’t foolproof — it’s just one way of protecting your information.

Another highly-secure method is using the Tor network. Whereas a VPN knows and can log your real IP, data sent and received through Tor is routed through a number of nodes. The key to the network is that each node only knows one point previous and in advance.

At no point can anyone know the whole path between your computer and where you try to connect.

The problem with Tor is that it’s very slow. It also can’t be easily used as a way to access data only available to certain countries, as it’s not always possible to appear from anywhere you like.

Edward Snowden uses Tor, but that's because his data is hugely sensitive. Tor isn't for everyone.

Tor is a solution people like Edward Snowden use, because his data is some of the most sensitive in the world and privacy is everything.

For most people a VPN is a necessary first step in securely browsing the internet more. The belt-and-suspenders types may want to use Tor, or even Tor along with a VPN for the additional layer of security. Because of the speed lack of control over location, you can more or less forget streaming or downloading using Tor.

VPN choice

Every recommendation for a VPN comes with its own backstory, with experiences good and bad. The consistent top performers can fall from grace in a moment and sometimes costs are a major limitation for some users.

ExpressVPN is the one we recommend most highly, but that doesn’t mean other VPNs are not suitable for you. ExpressVPN happens to meet every serious technical requirement, and has nice things like support for every major platform, high speeds, an almost unsurpassed network of countries, strong support, and genuinely keeps zero logs (court records have shown seized servers contained no logs).

Of course, it’s not the only VPN out there and competitors are coming on the tough market regularly.

The main lessons here: don’t trust a VPN until you do the research, don’t touch a free VPN unless you have no other option and even then, probably don’t do it. Finally, be aware that no logs doesn’t always mean no logs, unless the VPN in question has been tested in some way. Stay safe!



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