If you’ve ever done a quick Google search on proxies, you’re well aware that there are thousands of free shared proxy services on the internet. But did you know that in an analysis of more than 25,000 free shared proxies, only 14% were considered safe?
Let’s step back and talk a bit about why and how these companies can offer their proxy services for free, what shared proxies are, and why you should think twice before connecting through one.
A proxy acts as an intermediary for data exchange on the internet. Instead of directly taking the information you want from a website or server, you tell the proxy service what information you need and it grabs it for you.
Proxies are a great way to preserve your anonymity when browsing online — since the site you’re accessing only communicates with the proxy, there’s no way for it to know it’s actually you behind the request. You essentially borrow the online identity of the proxy in your online transactions.
In recent years, many new proxy companies have sprouted up seemingly overnight to capitalize on the growing demand for such services. Among the most popular of these new proxy services is the free “shared” proxy.
A shared proxy is a single proxy connection that you share with multiple other users. Basically, all the users connecting through this proxy share a single online identity.
And because dozens, even hundreds, of users share a single address, they don’t need to maintain a huge pool of proxy servers, keeping costs low.
You may be thinking, “What’s wrong with using a shared proxy? A lot of them are free and most don’t even ask you to register your personal information!”
The benefits of shared proxies — no or low costs, no long registration process — sound almost too good to be true.
And that’s because they are. Here we’ve outlined five of the biggest reasons you should avoid shared proxies like the plague.
1. Slow Speeds and Poor Connectivity
Sharing a single connection with multiple users also means you’re splitting the available bandwidth on the proxy server, and the more users on a connection, the smaller your piece of the pie.
As a result, shared proxies typically have terrible speeds and suffer from connectivity issues. And when it comes to free proxies, the much larger user base makes this bandwidth-sharing issue much, much worse.
If your business relies on stable, fast proxy connectivity, then the poor speeds of shared proxies should immediately drive you away. A slow and unreliable proxy connection makes it virtually impossible to perform modern marketing and analysis tasks that rely on automated bots or data scrapers.
2. No (or Poor) Customer Support
Free proxy providers can only afford to remain in business by keeping operational costs down. This includes the costs of hiring and managing customer support teams to hand user complaints.
If you’re using a free or cheap shared proxy service, don’t expect much help if you suddenly lose connectivity. There usually isn’t even so much as a community forum to vent your frustrations.
3. The “Bad Neighbor” Effect
The “Bad Neighbor” effect is what happens when you suffer consequences for the actions of your neighbors. In the case of shared proxies, you’re sharing a single online identity with dozens of other users.
The more people connecting through your proxy connection, the greater the chances that somebody will end up doing something that breaks the terms of service of a website.
If someone is caught using the shared proxy connection to operate their poorly designed social bot, the proxy’s address may be blacklisted or even blocked. Now anyone that wants to connect to that website through the proxy also loses access.
When you connect through a shared proxy, you are always at risk of losing connectivity due to the actions of other users on your proxy server.
Bad Neighbors affect the overall reliability of your connection and the quality of your browsing experience.
If your business relies on proxies for automated tasks, such as to deploy data scrapers, imagine having to constantly check the proxy for each of your dozens (or hundreds!) of bots.
4. JS or HTML Injection
You may be wondering how free shared proxies manage to remain in operation for so long without charging for their services. The truth is that the proxy is not the product they’re selling.
Because a proxy receives the data first it has the opportunity to modify that data before handing it off to your computer. Many free proxy services exploit this to inject advertisements into your browsing experience.
Some take this to another level by injecting cookies and trackers so they can record all kinds of information about you and your online behavior – what kinds of sites you visit, where you live, what you use proxies for.
These companies use JS and HTML injection to collect the browsing behavior data of thousands of users then sell it to the highest bidder.
5. Forced Deactivation of HTTPS
HTTP is the protocol that defines how messages are sent and received between web servers and browsers. It’s essentially the set of rules that dictates how online communication works.
HTTPS is a special extension to HTTP that adds a layer of encryption. HTTPS is the protocol used for securing web communications and keeping personal information like passwords and credit card information safe from prying eyes.
As explained above, many free shared proxy providers make their money by selling your browser activity. This means they want to know how you browse and what you search for online.
Since HTTPS prevents them from eavesdropping, they exploit their position as an intermediary for your data to the web to force the deactivation of HTTPS.
This means they force regular HTTP connections to their proxies, giving them the full ability to view everything you type and transmit over the internet.
You can imagine the danger this poses to your personal privacy! If you’re a business using this kind of proxy, you’re putting the identities and privacy of your company and all of its employees at risk.
A shared proxy is a type of proxy that allows multiple users to connect through a single proxy connection. This keeps their operational costs down and allows them to offer their services at very low prices (often free!).
Though they may be cheap, they suffer from speed and connectivity issues and often have no customer support to speak of.
Ironically, many of these free shared proxy services purporting to protect you from eavesdroppers will actually track your browsing activity and sell that data to the highest bidder!
If you need the proxy to keep your data private, get around geo-restrictions, or deploy data scrapers and bots, you stay far away from shared proxies. They’re slow, unreliable, and can actually put your data in danger.