If you want to protect your privacy online, one of the simplest ways to do that is using a proxy server.
Effectively, it serves as a gateway between you and the internet, so when using a proxy server the details of the websites you visit and other online history is saved to that server, rather than to your computer.
This allows for a degree of anonymous surfing, with the caveat that proxy servers will often save at least some details. This means a full investigation of the server records may make it possible to personally identify you.
However, this is unlikely to be a problem for most people, and proxy servers otherwise provide a useful if basic way to avoid the extensive advertiser tracking and routine privacy intrusions that are now commonplace online.
Do note that a lot of proxy server providers also provide paid-for VPN services, because VPN (Virtual Private Network) can offer better security and privacy than a proxy service alone. In which case, it may be worth considering getting a free VPN or pay for one of the best premium services instead.
If you're not sure whether a proxy server will be better, check out our guide Proxy servers vs VPN: Why VPNs are better.
In the meantime, here we'll feature the best proxy services, free and paid-for, which will overlap with some VPN services.
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You can get both residential and data center proxies from Smartproxy. Its pool of over 40 million rotating residential IPs comes from desktop and mobile devices and is shared between all the users.
While this can be disadvantageous as you can get flagged IPs, the provider ensures its quick rotation policy ensures its proxies don’t get banned. Smartproxy limits plans by bandwidth but allows you to run an unlimited number of concurrent threads.
You can select the proxy you want to use from a list of backconnect gateway servers in your dashboard. By default, Smartproxy displays all the different gateways for the countries and cities that it supports. You can however filter down the proxies based on a couple of useful parameters such as the location, and the type of session (rotating or sticky). Depending on these, the dashboard will show the appropriate proxy gateway that you can then use in your apps and tools.
If you plan to use the proxy to browse the web, Smartproxy also has extensions for both Chrome and Firefox. You can use the extension to again narrow down the location and type of proxy you want and even choose the authentication mechanism.
Like mentioned earlier, Smartproxy’s plans are based on the traffic allowance. The residential proxies start at $75/month with 5 GB of bandwidth allowance, which comes to $15/GB. Their most popular plan though costs $400/month and puts a 50 GB cap on traffic, which comes to only $8/GB. The good thing is you can top up your plans if you run out of bandwidth at the cost/GB of your plan.
The first that strikes you about Luminati is its huge proxy pool of over 72 millions IPs. The service offers all kinds of proxies. In addition to rotating residential IPs, the service also offers static ones, which are a group of 6 to 100 residential addresses for your exclusive use that haven't been previously used with your target domain. Luminati also sells mobile IPs that cost more than the usual residential IPs but are more resilient and will work on particularly difficult to please targets.
If you have very specific targeting requirements, you’ll appreciate Luminati’s support for ASN (Autonomous System Number) in addition to the usual targeting options such as country, state, and city.
To use its proxies, you can use the Luminati Proxy Manager (LPM), which is an open source tool that can be installed on top of Windows, macOS and Linux for free. LPM can help you define rules for IP rotation, blacklist IPs that give bad results, optimise bandwidth usage by routing some requests through your regular non-proxied connection, and more.
Luminati’s residential proxies support all the main protocols including HTTP, HTTPS and even SOCKS5. The service also has a comprehensive support infrastructure with multiple avenues of help including video tutorials and webinars.
However, all the features and dexterity comes at a price. While the service advertises a base rate for all types of proxies, specifying additional parameters such as the targeting levels has an effect on the final cost of the proxy. The service also has multiple payment plans to accommodate different users. In addition to the standard monthly subscriptions, Luminati also offers a pay-as-you-go plan. The plans are on average more expensive than many of its peers, but will seem reasonable particularly to large scale proxy users and those with very specific requirements.
RSocks offers residential, data center and even mobile IPs. You can either share its list of over 3 million proxies with other users or get some for your exclusive use.
One of the best features of the service is that it doesn’t restrict the amount of bandwidth on any of its plans. As long as the plan is valid, you can continue to use the proxies. RSocks also allows users to run upto 500 concurrent threads on many of the plans. To top it all, the proxy provider supports all the popular protocols including HTTP, HTTPS, and SOCKS5.
RSocks also offers separate plans for mobile IPs. You can buy these mobile proxies from 10 countries and can even specify a specific city and even a provider for some of them.
The service updates its list of proxies automatically and the duration depends upon the plan, Some proxies are rotated every 5 minutes, others hourly, and some every 2 hours. The number of new proxies after every update also varies from one plan to the other. The important thing to note however is that you don’t get the option to rotate the proxies manually from inside the dashboard.
One of the RSocks’ unique features is the ability to pause proxies, when not in use, to elongate their expiry. But the number of such pauses are limited, so you’ll have to use them judiciously.
While it doesn’t offer any browser add-ons, RSocks has a cross-platform proxy checker tool that’ll be useful for sorting through the list of shared proxies. The tool can help you find the most useful proxies that’ll work best for you based on parameters like their location, speed, and their presence in popular spam databases.
Also, unlike most of its peers, RSocks has about three dozen pricing plans for its various proxies. That’s because instead of creating plans based on limitations, such as bandwidth or the number of IPs, RSocks, has created separate plans based around individual parameters.
Oxylabs has an extensive network of over 70 million residential proxies that cover all the countries and cities in the world. In addition to the country and city you can also target proxies based on the ASN (autonomous system number). However these residential IPs use backconnect gateway servers and you’ll have to manually modify this address to add parameters for targeting information.
Oxylabs claims that their residential proxies include mobile IPs as well, but the service provider doesn’t give you the option to choose them specifically for your tasks. These residential proxies rotate IPs at every request to ensure the target cannot block you.
The proxy provider also offers static non-rotating residential proxies that it procures straight from ISPs. Oxylabs claims these give you the best of both data center and residential proxies, in terms of speed and resilience. Also these static ones support the SOCKS5 protocol, unlike the standard rotating ones that don’t.
Its pool of over 2 million data center IPs that aren’t shared but dedicated for your exclusive use, also support the SOCKS5 protocol. These also offer a proxy rotator add-on to automatically rotate the data center IPs.
The one unique offering in oxylabs portfolio is the next-gen residential proxy that employs machine learning and AI to more successfully mimic a regular user’s browsing behavior and work around blocks and captchas.
Oxylabs also has a web scraping tool of its own called Real-Time Crawler that’ll fetch the data for you in either HTML or JSON format.
The service has tiered plans that get more cost effective as you increase your commitment.
The entry level package is priced at $300/month with 20 GB of bandwidth, which comes to $15/GB, while the most expensive one costs $5000/month and offers 1 TB of bandwidth, which translates to only $5/GB.
Storm Proxies is designed for individual and small time proxy users that will happily trade many of the features you get with some of the proxy heavyweight for affordable pricing plans.
The service provider offers rotating residential proxies, private dedicated proxies which offer data center IPs, and backconnect rotating proxies which have a mix of data center and residential IPs.
The best thing about Storm Proxies is that all its proxies come with unlimited bandwidth. Instead its private dedicated proxies limit accounts on the number of IPs, the backconnect rotating proxies bases plans on the number of simultaneous connections, while the rotating residential proxies with prices based on the number of ports. Each port is capable of running up to 50 simultaneous connections.
Storm Proxies also doesn’t shy away from accepting the limitations of its proxies, which it clearly states for each of its supported proxy types.
The backconnect rotating proxies come from a pool of 70,000 IPs and only allow you to choose between three broad regions namely US, EU, and worldwide. These are backconnect proxies that are served via different gateways, each with its separate rotating time.
The 5-minute rotating residential proxies come from an even smaller pool of around 40,000 IPs. They only cover the US and EU locations and don’t allow you to choose which countries or cities you want to target.
There are several plans for each of the different types of proxies, but rest assured they are cheaper than most of the other proxy services. For instance, the smallest private proxy plan offers 5 proxies for $10/month, while the top most one offers 400 proxies for $400/month. Similarly, the backconnect rotating proxies charge $39/month for 40 simultaneous connections all the way upto $97/month for 150 simultaneous connections.
Best free proxy servers
If you want to bypass geo-blocks and avoid being snooped, you can use Hidester’s proxy service to browse the web anonymously.
Hidester doesn’t require any signup nor do you need to install any software. Just head to the website, from your desktop or your mobile device and enter the URL you want to visit in the space provided. By default it routes your request through US-based servers, but you also get the option to switch to European servers.
Hidester also has a number of options to further ensure your privacy. By default it will encrypt URLs, and remove scripts. It does allow cookies by default, but you have the option to even turn that off though that’ll ruin your browsing experience.
You can however choose to clear your cookies when closing the proxy session using the helpful Hidester bar at the top of the page. You can even change the browser’s referrer string from a pull-down list of preset values in the top bar.
The service claims it doesn’t keep any logs of your visits and assures that they are in full control of their servers with no third party IP proxy involvement.
In addition to its titular virtual private network, VPNBook provides a free SSL-encrypted web proxy for a spot of anonymous browsing. Take your pick from proxy servers based in the US, UK, France, or Canada, or let the proxy pick one at random.
In our tests, VPNBook was extremely fast, and its address bar/banner was unobtrusive. It also blocked ads and some scripted elements from web pages, which can be beneficial for privacy (though we’d appreciate being given a choice), and it supports HTTPS connections.
Note that VPNBook keeps web logs, which it can use to report illegal activity, but these are deleted automatically after a week. It’s not perfect, but VPNBook’s speed, convenience and clear policy on logging make it our pick for the best free web proxy.
Hide.Me advertises itself as the fastest free proxy server, due to not keeping their own logs in order to help speed up the service.
Whether that title is deserved or not it's still a decent free proxy you should consider using. You can use it directly through the website, or alternatively use the Firefox or Chrome browser extensions to use the service. The service only has proxies in Europe, specifically in the Netherlands, Germany, and Finland. Also while it does give you various privacy enhancing options like the ability to encrypt URL and pages, you don’t get these options while you are visiting a website.
Unlike some of the other free services, Hide.me displays annoying pop-up adverts for their paid-for VPN service. If you can live with that then you should probably be fine using Hide.Me.
KProxy offers a browser-based service, an extension for Chrome or Firefox, and a portable version of Firefox available with the extension already installed – a nice touch that lets you use the proxy on PCs at school, university or work.
Setup is a piece of cake – once the extension is installed, pick a remote server (the free version offers several options in Montreal and Munich) and click ‘Connect’. Secure HTTPS connections are supported.
The service does have some limitations: you can only browse freely for three hours at a stretch, or until you’ve reached your 300MB data cap. Once you hit this limit, you might see a tab prompting you to purchase a premium account, but this isn’t mandatory – you can reconnect again free after taking a breather for 30 minutes.
Hide My Ass offers a free web proxy service that’s very handy when you want to browse privately, but don’t have time or permission to download additional software or browser extensions. There are limitations – the premium software offers faster speeds, more secure encryption, and active malware protection – but for a quick bit of browsing, it’s a good option.
Hide My Ass’s free proxy masks your identity and IP address. It is one of the few services that allows you to select specific cities instead of just countries to route your requests through. The free service supports servers in New York City, Seattle, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, London, and Prague.
Hide My Ass’s web proxy service collects log files, which include your IP address, the URLs you visit, which pages and files you viewed, and when. It stores this data for 30 days – a policy that pushed it down our list of preferences.
Julius Cerniauskas, CEO of Oxylabs
What is a proxy?
A proxy is an intermediary between the user and the web that adds an additional layer that connects to any website. Proxies have their own IP addresses, so the website the user is visiting will only see this proxy IP address.
In terms of origin, there are two types of proxies, data centre and residential:
A data center proxy is a private proxy that is not affiliated with an ISP because it comes from a secondary corporation and provides a private IP authentication, high-level anonymity and rapid data request response times. Usually, data center proxies are used for infrastructure, such as servers and web hosting.
A residential proxy is an intermediary using an IP address attached to a physical location provided by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to a homeowner. It is a genuine IP address that can be used to imitate organic users behaviour.
What are proxies used for?
As mentioned before, individuals and businesses widely use proxies. Let's explore the reasons behind it.
Personal use A proxy used for a personal case will be attached to a particular location. This can enable certain access to geo-blocked content. For example, consumers can browse and purchase flights from locations that offer the most advantageous prices.
Secondly, proxies can optimize user's web activity and improve security levels by encrypting requests.
Business use In most cases, businesses use proxies to gain advantage over competitors by gathering insightful information. The proxy gives them the ability to extract and process large amounts of publicly available data on competitor prices, products, services, reviews or even market trends that can accelerate businesses in their decision-making process regarding adapting marketing, sales and pricing strategies.
Such information would be impossible to extract without proxies in place due to recurring blocks. When data gathering is in progress, a large number of requests are made to a web server.
The difficulty arises when these requests come from the same IP address because websites identify this activity as suspicious and block the IP address for security reasons. Proxies prevent this as IP addresses can be constantly changed if rotating proxies or a proxy rotator is used. This way data gathering can continue to take place anonymously and efficiently.
In addition to data gathering, many businesses use proxies for email security as there are huge amounts of emails that contain malware attachments, ransomware or suspicious URLs. Proxies help to scan each inbound email and filter out malicious content.
Another common use case is brand protection, as proxies are employed to scan the web searching for stolen content or counterfeit goods.
What is the difference between paid proxies and free proxies?
With a free proxy you can access almost every proxy benefit, which is great until something goes wrong. Utilizing such services means that no one is responsible for technical faults, which happen to be a common occurrence in this case.
It is not easy to find a free, long-life proxy as they quickly become outdated and the providers usually turn into paid ones or disappear over time. Furthermore, using free proxies can pose a serious threat because you never know if your data is secure and you may run the risk of falling victim identity theft.
Paid proxies are responsible for their services, with contracts and agreements in place to protect the user. For businesses, there is no other option but to pay for a dedicated proxy service and avoid any potential security issues. If you choose a reliable proxy provider, you should not need to worry about servers crashing or disappearing for no reason as many will offer dedicated account support.
A reliable proxy provider will also have ethically sourced proxies. Deciding what proxy provider to choose is not an easy task as there are many criteria to consider, but we have singled out a few key points:
- Reliability: 24/7 customer support and account managers, service trials and a money-back guarantee are must-haves for a reliable proxy provider. Pay attention to client reviews as well
- IP pool size and location: IP pool size and location variety are critical for those who will be scraping large amounts of data from various countries
- Success rates and speed: a reliable proxy network success rate should be at least 90%, with the best providers guaranteeing 95% or higher
- Integration and support: proxy providers must ensure their documentation is clear and understandable, including integration tutorials and clear instructions
The future of proxies
Businesses mostly use proxies for large-scale data gathering and extraction, but this is not an easy process. It consists of many complex tasks, especially when anti-data gathering measures are becoming more sophisticated and making it harder to collect publicly available information without being blocked. To address this, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) innovations are gradually being applied.
Ultimately, proxies are extremely valuable solutions for both individuals and businesses that need to make accurate data-driven decisions. For individuals, proxies can help to access geo-blocked content, improve security levels, and optimise a web activity. For businesses, not only will they provide an extra layer of security, but they are quickly becoming an indispensable tool to gather publicly available information.