Many services on the internet that normally cost a good chunk of money also have free alternatives. Proxies are a good example of this. There are companies out there that offer simple proxy services for free, sometimes without even requiring any signup. You can easily just search for free proxies and will get various lists full of options. Some of them might not work all the time, but at least it’s better than paying, right?
Wrong. If you’re concerned about your privacy and the security of your data, it’s important to know what’s really going on behind the scenes at most free proxy providers.
“If It’s Free, You’re Probably the Product”
That’s an old saying around the internet, and it’s easy to see how it applies to things like Facebook, Google, and other free services. Of course, there are exceptions – like the Linux operating system. But for the most part, using free shared proxies must have some catch to it. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be offered for free in the first place.
Shared proxies providers like Smartproxy take great care to provide a detailed explanation of how their services work. On the other hand, free providers either don’t do that or make claims that are provably wrong. Often, the goal is to extract your data. By connecting through a free proxy, especially one that doesn’t support secured connections, you’re very likely exposing your full browsing activities to whatever company happens to be running it. Sometimes this can even include things like login details and payment information.
You Can’t Verify Providers’ Claims
Premium proxy providers have to provide a clear overview of how their services work for various reasons. And they can’t really lie about what they’re doing. On the other hand, a free provider can easily make up a bunch of claims that you have no option but to take at face value. It’s not like you can go after them if you later realize you’ve been duped.
This happens more often than you might expect. People fall victim to attacks designed to extract their personal information all the time, only to realize that they have no legal recourse in the end.
How Much Is at Stake?
You might think that this doesn’t really matter because your data can’t possibly be that valuable to anyone out there. But that’s not quite true. Even if you don’t directly submit your banking passwords and other critical details, you are still likely exposing a lot of information to third parties, which should normally stay private. Your browsing activities can be analyzed and resold, and this might come back in the form of targeted advertising and annoying spam campaigns. And that’s far from the worst-case scenario.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
As we mentioned above, going with a premium proxy provider is mandatory if you’re concerned about the safety of your data. This gives you a clearly defined contract to work with, which can be invaluable if you’re concerned about the legal aspect of things. What’s more, you’ll know exactly who you’re working with because the company must always have a public profile, with contact details and other important information laid out clearly. That’s not the case with free proxy providers, who in some cases will go to extra lengths to conceal their actual identity.
Free Proxies Are Occasionally Fine
That’s not to say that you should completely avoid free proxies though. They still have their uses from time to time. But you should only rely on them when you don’t expect to be submitting any valuable information over the internet. Keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily mean explicitly logging in to a site. If your account is set to “stay logged-in”, this means that some sort of information is still getting transmitted every time you open that site. So, for example, be careful if you’re planning to use free proxies to unlock extra Netflix content. You might accidentally expose your login details for the site, even if you never actually type them in.
If that sounds complicated, it’s because it is – and the malicious owners of some free proxies will do everything in their power to extract as much information as they can about your browsing, including by using advanced tools and techniques.
If you want to have peace of mind, you should always work with reliable, premium proxy providers for all your important needs. This will also give you good access to a number of useful features, which you normally wouldn’t find in their free counterparts. From rotating IP addresses, to access to a much larger variety of geographic locations – the fees you’re paying for these services are definitely justified in certain use cases. Plus, if something goes wrong, you’ll also have proper customer support to discuss the issue with.