Microsoft is planning to enhance its Edge browser by adding built-in support for a VPN (Virtual Private Network). The official Microsoft support page for the service says it’s called the Microsoft Edge Secure Network.
VPNs route your traffic through a server before sending you off to your destination. Traffic from the VPN server is encrypted, which hides your IP address from the sites you visit. This allows you to keep your browsing habits private, at least as far as your ISP is concerned. They’ve become a lot more prominent in the past few years as identity theft and online malfeasance has increased. Microsoft’s version will be run by Cloudflare according to the support page. It’s built directly into the Edge browser, with a few caveats.
The most unsurprising is Microsoft looks to be adding it as a free service, but with a data cap. Users will be able to send 1GB of data through the VPN per month, and that’s it. It’s unclear if it’ll offer a paid version with a higher data cap. It’s very possible it’ll offer more data for people who purchase Microsoft services like OneDrive. You also have to be signed in to your Microsoft account to use it; also not a surprise. A sign-in is necessary for Microsoft to track how much data you’ve sent through the VPN. You’ll be able to click a small badge icon to see how much data you’ve used.
Microsoft says its VPN service will hide your IP and browsing habits from your ISP. It’ll also mask your specific location so advertisers can’t target you. As far as Cloudflare goes, the company says it “collects a limited amount of diagnostic and support data,” but that it deletes this data every 25 hours. How long a VPN keeps logs of users’ activity is important, and a 25-hour deletion policy is actually quite good. Some VPNs says they keep no logs, but most do, and the length of time they hold onto them before deleting them varies. Microsoft says Cloudflare has agreed to not sell any user data to a third party. It also won’t use anything it collects to create a profile of a user.
The one issue that’s unclear about Microsoft’s implementation is how it will affect performance. When you connect to a distant server before connecting to a site, it always adds latency. The big VPN providers mitigate this issue but hosting servers in as many locations around the globe as possible. This allows almost any user to be able to connect to a server that’s close to them. Though Microsoft has considerable pre-installed infrastructure, PCMag hypothesizes it’s not a true VPN. Instead it just hides your DNS lookups and gives you a virtual IP address. This could achieve the same privacy benefits without impacting performance.
Like all “preview” features, Microsoft is just testing this feature now so it can get feedback. However, apparently not even Insiders have access to this feature yet according to the XDA Developers site. That could mean the support page shouldn’t have been made public. Or it just went live too soon and the VPN feature will show up shortly in a preview build of Edge. If it adds VPN support it will join Opera and Firefox, which offer a free and paid VPN add-on, respectively.
Over the past few months Microsoft has been toying with several add-ons for its Edge browser. It’s dabbled with adding games, a way to take out short-term loans, and it added anti-Chrome pop-ups. At least this time, the company built something browser users might actually benefit from using.