Posted at December 14, 2014 in Proxy 101

Alright, let’s get something straight.

Think you’re getting a good deal when you’re using that “free” proxy server? (Note: that was sarcasm) Let me tell you something. For a proxy to provide unblocked internet access, a server needs a ton of bandwith to send information back and forth to the user. The thing is that bandwith costs a lot of money (and I mean A LOT)—and they need A LOT of bandwith. Plus, they need to hire maintenance, security, operations, and so forth. So why would they be spending all this money to create a FREE service? Because it’s not free.

The Tragedy of the Commons

Quick history lesson:

The tragedy of the commons is a theory by Garrett Hardin, according to which individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, behave contrary to the whole group’s long-term best interests by depleting some common resource.[1]

So, in our scenario, the common is actually the proxy server and the people are, well, the people that are using the proxy server. When you make something available to the public at minimal or no cost people will take advantage of it (yeah, yeah, I already know how you’re going to argue about the Canadian healthcare system).

So if your proxy server is a public one and you’ve discovered them, then it’s most likely that tons of other people have discovered it as well. Which means that within a few hours the server will be so overwhelmed, it will move at a snail’s pace and will eventually crash.[2]

Bad, bad, bad people out there

There are good people in the world and bad people in the world. And unfortunately, you may not be able to differentiate between them in online world. Proxy servers are famous for being created by people with not the best intentions. Many of them are using these servers for illegal or “risqué” activity which you can, in turn, be associated with. Plus, a lot of these hackers set up these servers so that they can monitor them and spy on your internet activity. Meaning that they can have access to ALL of your private information such as your passwords, email, and credit card information. These criminals can use your information for their own private purposes or sell your information to other criminals.

If you’re in the QA business then “spying on your activity” may be what caught your eye. Why?

Bad QA is No QA

If you’re doing QA for your company and your job is to make sure that the right ads are appearing in the right locations (aka geotargeted ads) or the appropriate content is on the relevant website, then you need to make sure you’re using a reliable and accurate proxy server. Why?

A lot of the freemium proxy servers actually sell your information to third party services or save your browsing history from previous website visits in different IPs.

Why is this troubling?

Well, let’s say you happen to LOVE giraffes and all you do all day is Google different interesting facts about giraffes. Well, when you finally have to get some work done and you change IPs to, let’s say France, then rather than seeing the correct ads pop up, you’ll see targeted ads- ads concerning giraffes. You won’t surf the web as a local user, per say, because you won’t be seeing exactly what someone in France would be seeing. Which means that the information you will be given is false and inaccurate. Which means that you can’t relay information to yourself or your clients with confidence.

Not good.

Most free proxy servers have no privacy policies at all, which means you have absolutely no idea what they are doing with your data. On the other hand, it’s in the interest of a commercial proxy server to protect your privacy, so they do this with pure diligence.

The Customer is Always Right

Look, customer service exists for a reason. And even when technology takes over every aspect of our lives, customer service will still exist and be operated by real live humans.

When you’re using a service, you need to make sure it works. And if you do happen to bump into any technical difficulties along the way, customer service is your savior.

Well, when you’re using a free proxy service, there is NO customer service. You are not a customer- you’re just another user to them. Which means there is nobody to complain to, except for other users (ever notice an influx of these forums with all these problems. That’s the best service you’re going to get). And when you run into these problems, there is nobody there to care or to help you. This means you’re going to waste several hours of your day figuring out which free proxy service you need to use next in order to get your work done by the 9 pm deadline.

Lesson Learned

Stop wasting your time by looking for a free proxy server. We’ve already established that they don’t really exist because you, as the user, will eventually pay in some way or another. If you’re serious about changing IP addresses or need this for work, then get serious about it and invest in a premium proxy server. Because sharing false information with a client can cost you your job.