Microsoft Edge Offers VPN, With a Catch

John Lister's picture

Microsoft Edge is getting what looks suspiciously like a virtual private network (VPN). It comes with a catch and requires some serious trust in Microsoft.

The "Secure Network" feature is now mentioned in a support document and has also shown up in Edge for some users who've signed up for early access to in-development features.

It appears to be a variant of a VPN, which involves routing internet connection through a VPN provider. The data traveling back and forth between the provider and the user is encrypted in a setup likened to a "tunnel" that stops it being accessible to anyone else on the internet.

The Microsoft solution appears to achieve two of the three main goals of most VPNs. The first is that it encrypts all data, even that going to and from non-secure websites. That can be particularly helpful when connecting over public WiFi networks.

The second is that websites and Internet service providers can't see the IP address of the user and in turn can't identify them. For many VPN users, the main attraction is that those sites and providers won't be able to respond to government or law enforcement demands to know who access what site.

No Answer To Geoblocking

Microsoft's version does miss a third benefit - namely, the ability to use a VPN to appear to be located in a different region or country. This can get around geoblocks such as when a streaming video service only has the right to "broadcast" in particular countries. However, the Microsoft tool is set up to automatically assign an IP address in the user's actual region. (Source: windowslatest.com)

The support document and early access suggests Microsoft will only let free users put 1 gigabyte of data through the service each month, after which they'll have to pay. Users will need to be signed into a Microsoft account to use the VPN. (Source: theverge.com)

Trust Is Key

Another big problem that's always an issue with VPNs is that although it keeps the user's activity secret from the Internet as a whole, the VPN provider inherently has the ability to know what sites the user has visited. The user needs to trust the provider not to abuse this power, which is why it's generally a bad idea to use free VPNs from unknown providers. Microsoft will be hoping that won't be a problem as both it and Cloudflare (which will operate the service on its behalf) are known as established, legitimate companies.

What's Your Opinion?

Have you used a VPN? Would Microsoft building it into Edge persuade you to give it a try? Do you trust Microsoft and Cloudflare to keep browsing habits confidential?

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Comments

eric's picture

I want to believe MS is doing this with good intentions. They've made SO many security and privacy improvements in later versions of Windows 10 and in Windows 11. Even the new Edge is more secure and privacy oriented than Chrome.

However, at best this will just be more bloat in Edge to make it use more system resources to run and at worst could be nothing but a veiled attempt at more MS data collection. We'll just have to wait for analysis after it's made live to the general public.

I want to hope their intentions are not nefarious; but you can never give any big tech company that particular benefit of doubt - even one that has done so much to reverse its old practices like MS has done in recent years.

I already subscribe to a private VPN service, one that is not based in the US and has a defined "no logs" policy. If I didn't already use that or had nothing else available, I would definitely consider the Edge built-in VPN for a quick session on a public wi-fi, etc. Limited protection has to better than no protection, right? 😂

beach.boui's picture

Clever move by Microsoft to put a dent in Google's massive data collection efforts. Chrome will have to compete and get it's own quasi-VPN service which will masquerade as a VPN, but will only be another tool of personal data collection for Google. Firefox currently has a for-pay VPN. They will have to re-think that offering and either make it cheaper to subscribe, or make it free with advertising support. But, the end result, one way or another, will be a game changer in the battle for browser market share.