The internet-age old question: Are paid proxies better than free proxies? What do you think? What does your gut tell you? What usually happens when the same general product is available for free, and also at a cost?
Instinctually we know that there must be some value in the service to start with, or else people wouldn’t use it at all. In the case of proxies, that service is anonymity in online browsing. This is a huge benefit for pretty much everyone, especially those of us who don’t want to be traced by our governments and sold to by the world’s corporations. Proxies can protect us from those negative things, while also opening up hundreds of doors that lead down very different paths.
These paths get complicated, dark, illegal, eye-opening, and completely drenched in the technical makeup of our modern world. However, the room that you stand in at the very beginning, the one with all the doors leading out, is based on anonymity. That’s what proxies are synonymous with, and what you should care about most.
So, paid or free?
The reality is that, in your heart of hearts (or your brain of brains), you know that paid proxies are better. Better for anonymity, and better for everything else. They’re not just better, but leaps and bounds better.
I get it, you still want to know why. I’ll tell you why.
If you’re legitimately considering which of these two proxies is better, you’re going to want to understand the basics of the technology. When you have a computer and pay for internet access, you send your bills to an Internet Service Provider (ISP), like Comcast or AT&T in the U.S. This ISP comes to your house and installs internet, providing you with a modem and router. You hook up to the internet via an ethernet cable or WiFi and in a matter of seconds you’re surfing the web.
This point of internet access, the literal cable running to your house, is assigned an IP address. This is a locational number, just like a physical address. It lets everyone know where you are on an internet map. You can check your IP address easily online at sites like WhatIsMyIPAddress. When you browse the internet, every single website you visit registers that IP address — in short, anyone can see what your address is, they just have to look.
A lot of people don’t like this sort of exposure. Similar to renting a P.O. box so that your actual address is not easily accessible, a proxy is a buffer between the internet and your IP address.
This works in a couple different ways depending on the method of proxy, but you can visualize it best with a simple diagram. Your computer is on the right. It connects to the internet, making a request to the world. A proxy sits in the middle, it receives your request to the world. The proxy then requests the same information to the internet, which is on the far left. The internet answers the proxy’s call for information and transmits it back to the proxy. The proxy then disseminates the information back to you.
In normal circumstances there would be no proxy and the request would go back and forth, exposing you. The proxy is a bouncer that keeps your identity hidden, while you still get all the information you were looking for.
That, in a nutshell, is how proxies work.
Free Proxies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
With a basic understanding of the technology, it’s key to think about the proxy as the middle man who is receiving requests from you and passing them along. The proxy, and the person who owns or controls the proxy, has access to your original IP address, the requests you’re making, and all the information you type in.
That’s a lot of information for a person or company to have, and in many ways is the reason you got the proxy in the first place — to hide all that stuff.
When you seek out free proxies, you are essentially looking around the internet for someone who is hosting a proxy at no cost to you. These can typically be found by simply typing “Free proxy lists” into Google. Two of the most common are HideMyAss’ free proxy list, and Free Proxy Lists’ list (they got their SEO right). Both are updated frequently and have helpful sorting tools, like what country the proxy is in, how responsive it is, and how anonymous it is. All of these are excellent measures for determining if it’s a proxy you want to use. Yes, every proxy listed is free.
The IPs and ports are right there; you can copy and paste them into your browser’s proxy settings and voila, your IP is hidden.
You’re thinking to yourself, “Great! This is exactly what I wanted.” It is, but only sort of. You can do a decent job of scouring free lists for anonymous proxies from good countries (don’t use the proxies from China, for instance), and they will work for you.
The best-case scenario for free proxies is using them to harvest data with a software application like ScrapeBox. You enter the massive list of proxies, check with the software to find the ones that are working, and use those proxies to go about harvesting URLs, keywords, and other metrics across the internet.
This works decently well because you’re not actually entering any sensitive information by using ScrapeBox to harvest those metrics. You are using the proxy at its most basic — just to hide your IP address, which it is doing well for the time being.
The above is just about the only decent use of free proxies. Even that process comes with some issues, and these issues open up a can of worms that will leave you ready to puke.
The puking will happen in The Ugly section. Below are the three main reasons free proxies are bad.
- Inconsistent and burn out quickly. What happens when your middle-man proxy gets set on fire and ceases to respond or exist? That’s the “burning out,” which any proxy can go through. Free proxies tend to burn out extremely quickly, often because they’re being hosted by strange anonymous people all over the world. Maybe their proxy server went out, maybe they unplugged the internet. Who knows. The point is that you can’t ever trust a free proxy to work, and if it does work, it won’t for very long.
- Crowded and slow. The free proxy lists above aren’t hand-crafted for your eyes only. They are free for everyone, so everyone is copying the same proxies into their software programs or Word docs. This means that even if you are using a free proxy and it’s working relatively well, at any time 1-1000 people (or more) could jump on that free proxy. This will slow down the speed at which your proxy transfers information back and forth, so say goodbye to television shows, quick downloads, or pictures loading on Facebook.
- Have stigma. Negative connotations in society is one thing, but many free proxies have already been used for nefarious purposes, like DDoS attacks and other hacks. This means the proxy IP address you’re using has a lot of negative associations. Sites like eBay, PayPal, Ticketmaster, and others will have already blacklisted your proxy IP address. This will limit your browsing greatly.
If the above reasons don’t concern you, the following will. Remember how proxies are all about anonymity? Well, the tricky thing is that proxies typically have the ability to see all of your data because you’re directly connected to them. It’s up to the proxy provider to decide how malicious they will be, and many of them have created free proxies with the sole intent of being malicious.
When you use a free proxy, you have absolutely no idea who that proxy belongs to, and what sort of intentions they have. Here are four examples:
- Logging records. HTTP proxies have the ability to log records of your internet usage. So, just when you thought all those activities were private, this unknown provider could be keeping tabs on everything you do.
- Stealing your information. Let’s say you’re using a free proxy and decide to check your bank account. You have to input your login information. Whenever you enter any login information (or any other information) the free proxy could be saving it in its own database. This is a common way to steal credit card numbers and hack people’s accounts
- Identity theft. Step No. 2 correlates directly to this. If a free proxy provider saves thousands of points of data every time you use the internet, they’ll be able to start stealing your identity pretty easily.
- Infested with malware. Sometimes free proxies have malware embedded in them, which will get in your computer and wreak havoc.
Many of these ugly tactics can be avoided by only using free proxies in select scenarios, but doing so requires a lot of effort. The best way is to not use them at all.
Paid Private Proxies
Nothing is perfect in this world, and I’m not here to tell you paid private proxies will solve any and all qualms in the internet world. No, they won’t. But they will take care of nearly every issue above, and greatly increase the speed, accessibility, and ease-of-use when it comes to proxies.
The main aspect of paid private proxies is that they are dedicated to you and your needs. You are not just paying for security and speed, but also for the help of a technically versed provider. Often these providers have comprehensive FAQ sections, 24/7 customer support, and can troubleshoot problems with you. This is not possible with free proxies, and is great for beginners.
The Costs and Types of Private Proxies
The biggest concern for you is cost, and I totally understand that. Is it worth paying for a proxy service? The answer is entirely dependent on you and your needs. Do you want to browse anonymously and securely? Do you want to download torrents without being caught? Do you want to start engaging in more complex SEO and social media tactics? All of these are great reasons to jump on the private proxy train.
The reality is that private proxies don’t have to be expensive. You can get a single private proxy for $2-4 per month, or batches of 10-15 for $20-25 per month. That cost can increase, but you probably won’t need that many. Paying for 5-10 is best to start, because you’ll get enough to switch them out occasionally, and paying for a single proxy is pretty expensive compared to a few of them.
This monthly fee can be likened to a Netflix charge, a phone bill, or car insurance, except most of the time it’s cheaper than all that. If you need online anonymity, pay for it. It’s pretty simple.
Once you’ve decided to pay for it, you’ll want to figure out what kind of proxy you want. Many providers offer HTTP proxies, which are good for general browsing and applications like ScrapeBox. However, these do not provide as much security. HTTPS and SOCKS proxies provide much more security, and are used by those truly concerned with privacy. Ask or look around for providers that offer HTTPS and SOCKS proxies.
Qualities of The Best Providers
Lastly, you should know a few things about good proxy providers. This is as important as choosing paid over free, because your proxy provider will be your gateway to this world, and therefore have some access to your information.
Check to see how many proxies they have on tap, and if they refresh your proxies monthly. This will make sure you continue to stay anonymous, decreasing overall risk for you. Customer support and an integrated or custom API are also important.
Go the paid proxy route. It doesn’t have to put a huge dent in your wallet and the amount of anonymity you’ll get is absolutely worth it. While privacy is important, you’re also paying for speed, access, versatility, and consumer reliability. Good luck and keep proxying.