Why use a paid proxy service, when there are tons of free proxies out there? Everybody knows free stuff is awesome! you take what’s out there, without even reaching to your wallet.
But the reality is that Proxies require resources to be maintained, monitored, and scaled,— so how are free proxies making a sustainable business? Free stuff in the proxy world should be taken with caution.
In this post, we’ll go through different reasons for buying a proxy. We’ll use free proxies as a comparison. How are free proxies making a living? what you should be careful of? and what can paying do to improve things 10x?
Table of Contents.
- Is a proxy server safe and private?
- Free proxies
- Paid proxies
- Free vs Paid Proxies: A Brief Comparison
- Final Words.
Is a Proxy Server Safe and Private?
Although there are many types of proxy and ways to use them— the most popular use case of a Proxy is Internet browsing anonymity.
Some people claim “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” — in other words, as long as you are not doing anything wrong on the Internet, you don’t have anything to hide. But this is a pretty aggressive statement from those not wilfully “thinking why their privacy matters?”.
In general, proxies provide the huge benefit of Internet browsing anonymity— especially for those wanting to break away from Government tracing, or censorship attempts. Proxies provide a great layer of protection against those attempts to abuse your privacy. But that is not all, they also open lots of new doors for unlocking more freedom around the Internet, such as bypassing geographically restricted content (streaming, booking flights, unlocking different pricing, etc), or IP-based limitations (opening multiple accounts).
This is all good, until… The very same reason why you came looking for a proxy… your privacy, gets often violated.
Taking the “free path” in proxy land seems wonderful in the beginning, but soon enough, it starts to get complex and unlawful in many ways. As proxies can’t keep up with a free service, without some kind of revenue. Either they put thousands of ads to your face or run you through a shady business. Remember, there is no such thing as a “Free Lunch.”
“The free lunch, has still to be invented”Alan Greenspan
Nothing comes for free. And in free proxy land, you will end up paying with your privacy or resources. Always, remember, your Internet privacy should be taken with high care. A proxy should be synonymous with anonymous. If it, (either paid or free) starts messing up with your privacy— it is time to start looking somewhere else.
Starting up, free proxy providers need to use their own money to create and provide proxy services. So, why do free proxies cost nothing to the end-users?
- Data collection.
- Malware infection.
- Selling traffic.
One of the main reasons free proxies are free is because providers can monetize the large amount of “penny-less traffic” by showing them ads. They will advertise as much as possible to all their traffic landing on their proxy sites, so they can gain over their ROI (Return Over Investment).
A free proxy could earn decent money from an ads budget, so they can pay 1-2 site admins to manage their service.
Although there is nothing wrong with seeing lots of annoying ads, there is still another side of the free proxies story, which is not beautiful.
Data Collection and Malware Infection.
Christin Haschek, an Austria-based security researcher found that, after analyzing 443 open free proxies with a test script, an astounding 79% of the surveyed proxy servers were forbidding HTTPS traffic from going through. No HTTPS meant that proxy users would have to use HTTP— the easiest way to intercept and modify web traffic. Only 21% of them weren’t doing any “shady” practices with the traffic.
The word “free” attracted users, like honeybees. What could have happened to those 5000 people, loading an infected .js file?
- Turning the computer into a botnet unit, which listens to commands from a remote central station and performs DDoS attacks.
- Install spyware, that can log keystrokes, camera, and even mouse positions.
- Steal sensitive information, such as login, banking, or credit card data from login forms or browser cookies.
- Catching the bad guys. On the positive side, a free proxy with infected .js could be a honeypot for catching the bad guys.
According to a report from Trend Micro, the “Community VPN” provider known as HolaVPN, provides a free service with a different twist.
When you sign up to free HolaVPN, you have to agree in Terms & Conditions to become a “peer member” of the Luminati Network, also owned by HolaNetworks Ltd. According to the same report, the Hola VPN provider routes traffic of their massive amount of users or “peer members” through more than 1000 exit nodes in distributed data centers. This means unaware free VPN users are getting their resources used by other services, like residential proxies. They might be participating in larger-scale bandwidth operations, including ordinary exit nodes or web scraping. This is not so bad until someone buying IPs decides to build a botnet for DDoS attacks.
Is a Free Proxy Safe?
We can never generalize. There are some legit and safe free proxies out there, trying to make a decent living from ads. But the problem is, never having a guarantee of their intentions beneath the “free lunch”. Free proxies (and VPNs) are not recommended, especially for handling sensitive information.
Recommendations, if you are using a free proxy:
- Use a free proxy, only for normal browsing, not to send sensitive information, like banking, credentials, etc.
- Never, never, never browse without HTTPS. When you go HTTP, any browser will warn you, and let you know you are accepting an invalid certificate. You may use HTTP only for web scraping from tools like Scrapebox.
- With a free proxy, always browse in incognito mode, or remove browser cookies every now and then and beware of jquery plugins, as they may load unsafe content.
Paid Proxy Service.
Of course, private paid proxies will not come to solve the world hunger… or all the issues on the Internet. BUT, you are paying for a service/product so there is a 180 degrees difference.
The paid proxy services will allocate resources in terms of money and manpower to provide a better service. So with the money you pay, private proxies will generally provide you with more speed, stability, higher accessibility, anonymity, diversity, and even customer service.
Is it Worth Paying for a Proxy?
It depends on your requirements. Maybe you are looking for anonymous browsing and to bypass some censorship and network limits. Or maybe you are worried about getting caught downloading torrents illegally. Or probably, you want to take your SEO proxy strategies or market research to another level?
All of these are solid reasons to opt-in on a private paid proxy. But for many people, opting in (or out) of a paid proxy service comes down to price. And fortunately, you can find a variety of great deals around, starting from around $0.03 per proxy, or batches of 100 proxies for $15/month.
Qualities of a Private Paid Proxy.
The following are common features offered by private paid proxies:
- Customer Service. The dedicated service model by some of these companies provides a specialized team of support operators available 24/7 and ready to handle your inquiries. Additionally, some proxy providers also include FAQ and knowledge base.
- Speed and security. If you hire a shared proxy server, the paid proxy service provider should limit the amount of “shared users” to the server in order to lower the server’s load. If it is a dedicated proxy, all resources go to you. Also, when it comes to the network, the bandwidth should be dedicated to the proxy server, for lower latencies.
- Different types of proxies. The two most common types of proxies offered by a provider are HTTP, HTTPS, and SOCKS proxies. HTTP is not recommended for web browsing unless you are using it for web scraping, with tools like ScrapeBox.
- Diversity at a cheaper price. IPv6 proxies are generally fresher, cheaper, and faster. IPv6 has a larger IP addressing scope than IPv4 (IPv6 vs IPv4). So, getting a more diverse pool of untouched IPv6 proxies without neighbors is cheaper and more efficient.
- Legit IP addressing ownership. Proxy server providers with IP leasing services that own the IPs, will provide more clarity on the source of the IPs. They own the IPs, where proxies are routing traffic from.
Is a Paid Proxy Service Safe?
Any proxy service, regardless if you pay or not, can read, modify, and log proxy requests. The only difference is that a paid proxy service does not need to save your data.
How paid proxies keep you safe?
- First, they depend on subscription revenue to support their operations, so they don’t have to find revenue somewhere else. They are making money from the service itself (and not from ads or other shady practices).
- Some providers are headquartered in strategic locations around the world, where the data retention laws don’t exist. This is key to ensuring that nobody, whether government, copyrights agencies, etc., can come knocking on their doors asking for data logs.
Free vs Paid Proxy: A Brief Comparison.
|Privacy||Speed||Reliability||Web Scraping||Bypassing restrictions||Support|
|Free Proxy||Low. Never know what to expect.||Good only for fresh proxies||Reliable only for fresh proxies||Available. Very high chances of getting banned.||These IPs are frequently blacklisted.||No support.|
|Paid Proxy||Medium-high. No need to collect data||Dedicated network bandwidth||Highly reliable.||Available. Very low chances of getting banned||Fresh IP proxies can bypass restrictions.||24/7 customer and tech support.|
Below, we’ll go into detail for each comparison element, between the paid vs free proxy servers.
- Although, a free proxy might offer the basic level of privacy-protection, you’ll never really know what to expect. Free proxies might be keeping logs with your source IP and might be enforcing you to use unencrypted protocols like HTTP.
- Although privacy can never be guaranteed with paid proxy services as well, the difference is, that they are making money from the service itself. So, there is no need to sell logs or traffic.
- Although, not all free proxies are trash, especially those fresh ones, being free means, they’ll soon get cluttered with lots of neighbors, making the server slow as a snail. Some free proxies services like proxy lists, report the response time and transfer rate of proxies.
- Private proxy services, on the other hand, usually have proxies on high-speed data centers. Plus they put a limit on the number of users sharing the same server, so speed tends to be much faster.
One thing that distinguishes paid proxy services vs free proxies is the level of reliability.
- Free proxies are very unreliable— they can be up, running fast one day, but flagged and blacklisted the next day.
- Paid proxy services on the other hand, will always replace and refresh used IP subnets. If they have a flagged or blacklisted IP subnet, they will immediately replace it with a fresh one.
Collecting or Scraping Data.
- Finding a good free proxy for web scraping is like trying to find a gold mine. It is too good to be true, and if you find it, it will soon be cluttered by neighbors trying to exploit it. They are quickly blocked by sites, as their usage increases over time.
- A paid proxy’s IP may also be flagged, but the chances are a lot less. A rotating proxy of fresh IPs will increase the chances of getting more valuable data, at a lower risk of getting blocked.
Unblocking Restricted Content.
- When many users sharing the same free proxy with the same IP address, access the same domain, for example, Netflix or Amazon Prime, the IP will instantly be identified, monitored, and blocked. When the same IP is sending too many requests to the same target, these services easily identify and blacklist these IPs, including the entire block owned by the same company.
- A paid proxy service, on the other hand, introduces geographical IP (GeoIP) diversity and most importantly a fresh new pair of IP blocks! so any IP intelligence (anti-VPN or anti-proxy) attempts can be easily bypassed.
- Free proxy providers do not have the resources to operate and maintain their proxy networks. If they manage to make money from ads, they might support paying 1-2 website admins. But the lack of incentives or man-power will result in low proxy quality and no customer service.
- On the other hand, paid proxy providers offer customer support to help users troubleshoot, or improve the performance of the network. As mentioned before, some even include comprehensive FAQs and entire knowledgebases.
Unless you are capable of finding a free fresh proxy for 1-2 days, we do not recommend free proxies. Still, a free fresh proxy server (or any kind of free proxy) should never be used for handling sensitive information. As you might never know the real intentions behind their “free lunch” kindness.
What about private paid proxies?
Buy a proxy if any of the following reasons is important for you.
- Privacy and Anonymity.
- Avoid getting blocked.
- Speed and reliability.
- If you like having support.
To get your hands into the best, paid proxy service, try a 14-day money-back guarantee of a proxy.