Noticed your Facebook playing up recently? Internet connection seem a bit sluggish? Pages timing out? URL loading well before the page actually appears?
That's because you're being watched.
Everything you do online in Thailand is being tracked and logged:
Thailand’s prime minister has defended plans to introduce tough new cyber laws, which would give authorities the right to access emails, telephone records, computer data and even postal mail without court approval. ~ AFP News – Jan 2015.
Seven major Thai online service providers are working with the Thai government to create new guidelines for tackling the spread of illegal content on the web. The group are regulating content related to pornography, terrorism, drugs, spam, phishing and copyright infringement. ~ Bangkok Post, 2015,
If you look at the wrong site, type the wrong thing in a search or download something naughty, you could be in trouble, no joke. The authorities are on the lookout for dissidents, spammers, lawbreakers and of all things, copyright infringers!
I know, Thailand is the last place on earth you’d expect to get in trouble for copyright infringement. In fact, historically Thailand has been the place people visit to acquire their yearly supply of fake handbags, bootleg DVDs and Polo shirts.
It's also become a safe haven for internet spammers, web fraudsters, hackers, those selling prescription drugs online, everyday torrent users and basically anyone doing any kind of online activity considered illegal in the western world.
But things have changed.
Thailand wants to be taken seriously by the global community, to move from a second world to first world country. Thailand wants to expand trade agreements and gain favouritism with Europe and America.
But to fall in with the big boys, Thailand is expected to start regulating online copyright infringement, and help the NSA gather information by invading the privacy of its citizens and guests by investigating their online activity and reporting back to big brother.
The “snooping initiative” began in 2013. The Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA) began working with the PKI Association, the TISA (Thailand Information Security Association), THE Internet Foundation for the Development of Thailand, THE Thailand ISP Association, the Thai e-Commerce Association, Google Asia Pacific (yes, you know it's serious when Google is involved) and eBay to create the country's first self-enforced code of conduct for preventing illegal content on the web.
The US National Security Agency uses computer servers in Thailand to help run a massive collection of information about internet users, and to store and analyse the data”.
A Very Real Risk to Your Freedom
So what does this mean for you? Well, as you know, Thailand doesn’t mess around when it comes to enforcing the law, particularly where foreign nationals are concerned – get caught doing something illegal and end up in prison. Simple.
But just how serious will this crackdown on online activity get? I mean, we’ve heard the word “crackdown” bounded around in Thailand so many times over so many issues that it doesn’t really hold much weight in our minds anymore. And what does “preventing online illegal content on the web mean?”
Well, remember the spate of ridiculous court cases brought by the RIAA in the US?
Remember 12 year old Brianna LaHara who was fined $2,000, or Wisconsin grandfather Fred Lawrence who ended up smacked with a $60,000 lawsuit, or how about 66-year-old grandmother of three, Lola Scruse, who, in 2006, was fined $6,000 because her grandchildren downloaded songs onto her computer – she was on dialysis and lived off of Social Security checks at the time.
None of us know just how serious online security will become in Thailand, but the last thing you want is the BIB to come to your apartment or hotel with a piece of paper from the Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA) that says you need to pay a fine or go to jail.
I can see it now, expats and travellers paraded on Thai TV by police officials as online pirates attempting to use Thai web space illegally.
Far fetched? It really isn’t.
Thailand is adopting the policies of the western world, and what might seem like a harmless download of a movie may end up costing you time in the infamous Bangkok Hilton.
Mind What You Say: This isn't Just About Illegal Content
Let's face it. The owners of torrent sites, illegal rackets selling steroids online and running cross-territory hacking syndicates aren't going down. It will be the guy that downloads a few movies or visits a couple of sites deemed “unsuitable” that gets made an example of .
Oh, and that Thai guy that sells all those fake DVDs at your local market, yes, he'll still be there while you're negotiating your fine.
It's not just about illegal content though. It's about dissent.
The authorities want to get past the political problems of the past few years, and part of that means making sure people don't share negative media or talk negatively about Thailand on social networking platforms and forums. This means that dissidents and their friends are being monitored; so be careful who you are friends with on Twitter and Facebook, and what you watch, share and download.
It might all sound a bit like I'm fear-mongering here, but really, this is the reality. And not just in Thailand but the world over. Instability and insecurity is making the powers that be very paranoid, and as such they need to see what we bad citizens are up to at all times.
Of course, there is a way around all of this…
Be Anonymous: Get a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
I don’t download music or films illegally, but I do enjoy my privacy, and I believe strongly in exercising my civil rights. I also require a VPN for my work because I have to access sites at times from US and European servers. Having a VPN also gives me the added benefit of being able to watch TV channels from my home country.
I’m glad I have a VPN in Thailand too, as these new laws concern me. I don’t want to be accused of spending time on inappropriate sites after innocently clicking a link sent to me in jest by a friend from the other side of the world, or in Thailand. Moreover, I have been hacked before, and it isn't a nice experience when all your personal information finds its way into the hands of a criminal network. A VPN helps prevent this.
Don’t Know What a VPN is? Let Me Explain…
A VPN is a Virtual Private Network that secures your computer's internet connection to guarantee that all of the data you're sending and receiving is encrypted and secured from prying eyes.
Without a VPN in Thailand, your data can be logged, monitored, analyzed and stored by the authorities or your network administrator.
You are also at risk of being hacked or spied on by your network peers – those in your apartment complex, or at the café, airport or any other public place.
Your ISP or network administrator may also be limiting or restricting your access to certain websites and services. And then there’s the wider issue that sites you visit are probably collecting your personal data for advertising purposes.
The worrying thing about being in Thailand is living in a condo block and sharing a network with many others, a network that is sub-contracted to an amateur web guy who sells on the services of True, 3BB and alike to folks like you. This means your network administrator or condo building peers could be spying on your computer.
There are thousands of hackers living in Thailand, and your unsecured connection is easy fishing for them, especially if they have a deal going with the network manager which allows them backdoor access to the system.
And then there are those public places with free access to unsecured WiFi connections. These are prime hacking spots for hackers to gain access to your email account, online bank accounts and other confidential information.
A VPN is also an essential tool for writers, journalists, whistleblowers and anyone conducting online research, because it is a very real possibility that looking up the wrong thing online in Thailand will get you in trouble in the very near future. So for the sake of a few dollars a month, it’s an essential investment.
With a good VPN, you simply eliminate the risk or being spied on, hacked or having your data collected as you surf. You remain anonymous, closing the door on prying eyes. Period.
What's the Best VPN for Thailand?
If you’ve seen any of those review sites that list top 5 VPN’s for Thailand or similar, don’t bother. These sites are just recommending their preferred VPNs in general. The reviews aren’t Thailand specific and they recommend pretty much the same services for each country.
Trust me, I work online and I’ve used about 6 VPN services since moving to Thailand, so I know what works well here inside the Land of Smiles.
You see, not all VPN’s are created equally and there are 4 key things you need to consider:
- How many countries the company has servers in: This determines how many countries you can pretend to be surfing the internet in. So, while you might be in Thailand, you can pretend to be in Italy, for example.
- How fast the connection is: Some VPN’s take ages to boot up once you click on the software that you have to load once connected to the web. The better services take less than 20 seconds on average.
- How the VPN performs inside the country you are based in: Some just didn't work well for me in Thailand. One service was in fact blocked by True internet, somehow!
- How secure your information is: Some VPN services keep store your browsing history and location details for lengthy periods of time, and some even share this data with government authorities. I won't use a VPN company that stores anything for more than 30 days (locally), and certainly not one that shares my information with third parties.
Here's a breakdown of the 2 VPN services that I currently use, and will work brilliantly for you while staying in Thailand:
Recommendation 1: VyprVPN
Based out of Switzerland, VyprVPN has moved into my #1 recommendation spot in the past year because the service is just superb.
It boasts 700 servers and handles data end-to-end with no third party involved. This means the highest level of privacy and security are guaranteed.
Everyone in the game knows that Switzerland is notorious for being privacy conscious.
Coverage & Ease of Use:
Vypr has solid coverage in Asia, with servers in Thailand, Singapore and Australia – the latter two I use regularly as the speeds are very good.
Here's a screenshot of VyprVPN on my desktop/laptop:
Now I'm in New York. And check out these new functions they bought out. The kill switch stops all traffic if Vypr becomes disconnected. And switching on the site blocker helps you avoid malicious sites. Easy to use, self-explanatory, and very secure.
VyprVPN can be used across all your devices, and simultaneously too. Here's some screenshots of the VyprVPN app on my iPhone (they cater for Android devices too):
VyprVPN used to be a tad more expensive than other VPN providers because they maintain all their own software and hardware, but recently that changed and, because of such high user numbers, they have brought out two new irresistible pricing plans.
If you pay for a year up front you get it far cheaper and, if you break the price down annually, I'm sure you'll agree that it's peanuts for such great cyber security.
You get a free 3-day trial on both the plans below too. If you don't like it you don't have to keep it.
You still get the extra security features too. These may or may not mean much to you, but let me run through them quickly:
Basically, Vypr's OpenVPN gives you the option of choosing from 3 levels of encryption, and the Chameleon technology you get on the premium plan uses scramble metadata to prevent VPN blocking, something that some VPN users are coming across more frequently these days in Thailand, China and other countries.
To date, authorities have been unable to block Vypr — it even gets past the great China firewall!
The cloud feature on premium gives you your own dedicated server and IP address, which makes the service even faster.
If you want to go for Vypr, I've reduced the slight difference in price for you even more by reaching out to the owners and securing a special discount for my readers. If you’re serious about protecting your privacy from the authorities and want a steel wall to hide behind, Vypr is bulletproof.
- Month $9.95
- Annual $60.00
- 3 simultaneous connections
- PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, OpenVPN 160/250
- NAT Firewall
- VyprDNS – Encrypted, Zero-Knowledge DNS
- Month $12.95
- Annual $80.00
- 5 simultaneous connections
- PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, OpenVPN 160/250, Chameleon
- VyprVPN Cloud access
- NAT Firewall
- VyprDNS – Encrypted, Zero-Knowledge DNS
Recommendation 2: HideMyAss
Based in the UK, the Hidemyass network just keeps growing and growing. It's reliable and super easy for non-techies to use, but because of this lacks that cool kill switch and auto-malicious sites blocker that Vypr boasts.
Some don't like the idea that HMA is based in the UK because they assume HMA passes logs to the UK government, but despite the rumors this isn't true.
They keep username, timestamp, and IP for 60-90 days and then delete it. They DO NOT store details of, or monitor, the resources (including websites) you connect to or any of the data sent or received over the network when using the VPN service.
Coverage & Ease of Use:
HMA has got 865 servers in 193 countries around the world, and recently added a ton of USA servers and more in France and Australia – bringing the total number of IP address to 116,000+.
There's also a server in Thailand and every other country in the region , so you can pretend to be in Thailand even when you aren't here. Here's a screenshot of my desktop HMA dashboard:
It’s super-fast and can be used across multiple devices – so you can install it on your mobile and tablet devices, and that of your partner’s too.
To use Hidemyass, you simply load the software on your computer, or the app on your phone or tablet, select the country you want to hide in and press connect. Here's some screenshots of the HMA app on my iPhone (they cater for Android too):
Price wise HMA is coming in a little more expensive than Vypr these days. The extra is for the infrastructure. They have 940+ VPN servers, located in 340+ locations, across 190+ countries, with a total of 120000+ IP addresses. That's a lot of ways to stay anonymous!
Recommendations in Summary
- Both companies are based in Europe: HMA in the UK and VyprVPN in Switzerland. This means they don't have to pass user data activity to the authorities like US-based VPN companies do. This fully protects your privacy.
- Both are military grade encrypted. You cannot be recognized, anywhere!
- Both work very well in Thailand due to the volume of available servers scattered around the world.
- Both are super easy to use: simply download the software (desktop) or app (mobile), boot up, choose your location and start surfing anonymously.
VPN in a Nutshell
A VPN is essential for avoiding hackers, browsing and downloading files anonymously and managing your online banking without the worry that you are being spied on by authorities or bad guys.
A VPN lets you conceal your personal information and your location (IP address) online from snooping by your internet service provider.
This means they can't pass your information to local and foreign authorities. You can also watch and read restricted content without it being blocked by the Thai authorities. And you can watch Netflix, BBC iPlayer and services like this from wherever you are!