Every day, millions of downloads happen for free. Updates and patches to existing software, free trials for games, freeware, and apps for mobile devices, are all available for no cost on the net.
There were around 3.48 million apps in the Play Store as of 2021. In the final quarter of that year, 6 billion apps were downloaded. When the pandemic arrived and Covid set in, most people found themselves spending more time at home. This resulted in extra leisure time and increased internet usage.
In 2020, around 218 billion apps were downloaded. Many of these applications would have been free. Many websites also offer free services such as Grammarly or Canva. Clearly then, there is a desire for free software whether it be for entertainment, education, or to automate tasks.
With apps being given away by YouTube, PayPal, Netflix, and other global companies, there should be no reason to have any mistrust in free software right? But what if the service you are using is for security and safety online, should you risk your sensitive data to a free proxy for instance?
While proxies usually don’t involve actually downloading any software, they still involve a connection to your device and all the risks that may entail.
Are Free or Low-Cost Proxies a Bad Idea?
Nearly all anti-virus software developers have free versions of their programs available. Sometimes these are free trials, and sometimes they are the full package but delivered with limited options.
If anti-virus software can be installed for free, why should you worry about other security options such as proxies, or VPNs for that matter? There is a lot of concern that free or low-cost proxies may not be delivering the protection that users believe they are getting, and the service may be putting the user at risk.
Using a free data center proxy to access region-blocked websites abroad and stream TV shows may not be a serious issue. However, using a free proxy to web scrape, or to protect sensitive data might be.
Does Using a Paid-for Proxy Automatically Mean a Better Service?
Proxies are there to help you stay anonymous on the internet. Instead of accessing a website directly with your IP address clear to see, a proxy will reroute you through its server and replace your IP with one of its own.
Using a free proxy means you get all this without paying a penny. But, that software still needs to be paid for somehow. Developers spend time on their software, and they have staff, marketing, and other overheads to pay. So, when you use a free proxy service, you are likely to be getting a cut-down version of the real thing at best.
Many proxy services will let users try out residential and mobile data for a small fee to see which IPs work best. ProxyEmpire uses only residential and mobile proxies as these are the most reliable and secure way to connect to websites and collect data. A free proxy service will almost never involve residential or mobile IPs.
Instead, they use open proxies which are less secure, can be blacklisted by many websites, and could be open to attack by malicious hackers. A paid proxy service is more likely to have features such as kill switches, and better protocols than a free one.
What Are the Downsides to Using a Free or Low-Cost Proxy?
As mentioned above, free proxy services still need to be paid for. This will often involve advertising. Generally, ads in apps or on websites are more of a nuisance than anything, but there could be a potential security risk. While no self-respecting proxy provider would have any malicious intent, advertising could slip through that is infected with malware.
Potentially worse, is what a free proxy provider may do with your information. It is not unknown for proxies at the lower end of the market to collect and sell data and information from their users.
Plus, a free proxy may simply not be up to the task. The IPs assigned by free proxies are not genuine and can be identified and flagged up by websites. You could find your free proxy is blocked by many of the websites that you wish to visit.
Superior providers offer a rotating proxy service where millions of authentic residential IPs are available to users. These are almost impossible to detect as they are the real thing provided by ISPs.
Disadvantages of Using a Free Proxy Provider
Here are some of the reasons why free proxies may be bad, especially if you are using them for business.
- Slow speeds
- No kill switch
- Potential malware risk
- Intrusive advertising
- Weak protocols
- Data may be sold
- No residential or mobile IP options
- Blacklisted by many websites
- Poor location choices
- Lack of dashboard features
About 3.4 billion phishing emails go out every day. Many of these contain viruses and malware for their unsuspecting victims. One worrying statistic is that 94% of malware is delivered by email.
A free proxy may not have the security features in place to scan emails for malware in the way that others do. Kill switches are another important security feature that free proxies are unlikely to have.
When you connect to a proxy, you are trying to establish a secure connection to the website you wish to visit. If that secure connection is dropped then your information and IP can be exposed. A kill switch will ensure that you are disconnected and remain anonymous, whereas a free proxy could leave you fully visible.
Poor Choice of Locations and Servers
In fairness, if you are receiving a free service then you probably don’t expect all the bells and whistles you would get if you were spending cash. However, a free service is useless if it cannot deliver what you need.
Generally speaking, free proxies will not provide you with the premium geo-locations that paid-for services will. This may mean you are not able to connect to the necessary locations.
A Free Proxy Is Useless for Business Needs
Any business involved in data mining or web scraping will need to use residential proxies. Trying to carry out this task with a free or even low-cost proxy will be impossible. IPs will either already be blacklisted or will be soon after operations commence.
There are plenty of reasons why businesses need cyber security, and proxies are essential today. However, using a free proxy is not going to provide the anonymity and protection needed by a business operating online in 2022.
Free proxies will also not provide the number of IPs needed by businesses. For effective data mining, it may be necessary to have hundreds of concurrent connections operating at once. A free proxy service will never provide this.
Free proxies will rarely if ever provide protocols such as SOCKS4 or SOCKS5, and will always be less secure than paid services. This isn’t to dismiss free proxies entirely, but they should be limited to basic browsing.
While watching foreign streaming content with a free proxy is probably okay, trying to collect data from global websites isn’t going to work.
But above all, free proxies may just not be keeping you as anonymous, or your activity online as private, as you may think.