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 VPN 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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Best paid proxy services
The best all-round VPN service for speed, privacy and unblocking
Number of servers: 3,000+ | Server locations: 160 | IP addresses: 30,000 | Maximum devices supported: 5
Get 3 months free with an annual plan on TechRadar's #1 rated VPN
ExpressVPN delivered outstanding performance in our speed tests and excellent customer support plus a 30 day money back guarantee.
ExpressVPN offers access to more than 3,000 servers in 160 locations across 94 countries, alongside maybe the widest platform support you'll find anywhere.
We're not just talking about native clients for Windows, Mac, Linux, plus iOS, Android and even BlackBerry. There's custom firmware for some routers, DNS content-unblocking for a host of streaming media devices and smart TVs, and surprisingly capable VPN browser extensions for anything which can run them.
All that functionality could sound intimidating to VPN newbies, but ExpressVPN does more than most to help. An excellent support website is stuffed with detailed guides and tutorials to get you up and running. And if you do have any trouble, 24/7 live chat support is on hand to answer your questions. It really works, too - we got a helpful response from a knowledgeable support agent within a couple of minutes of posting our question.
The good news continues elsewhere, with ExpressVPN delivering in almost every area. Bitcoin payments? Of course. P2P support? Yep. Netflix unblocking? Naturally. Industrial-strength encryption, kill switch, DNS leak protection, solid and reliable performance and a clear no-logging policy? You've got it.
Downsides? Not many to speak of. The ExpressVPN service supports five simultaneous connections per user (increased from three), and it comes with a premium price tag. But if you want a speedy service, crammed with top-notch features, and with all the support you need to help you use them, ExpressVPN will be a great fit. While they don’t have a free trial, ExpressVPN has a no-questions-asked 30-day money back guarantee if you aren’t happy with the service.
Get the best overall VPN 2020
Our #1 recommended VPN is the one we would choose if we were getting one: ExpressVPN. TechRadar readers get 3 extra months free when they sign up for a year. And you can also give it a try first with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
One of the fastest swimmers in the VPN sea
Number of servers: 1000+ | Server locations: 60+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: Unlimited
Based in the British Virgin Islands, Surfshark has laid-back and playful branding. But when it comes to keeping you and your online identity secure, it's all business.
The basics are all in place for starters. So that includes OpenVPN UDP and TCP, IKEv2 security protocols, AES-256 encryption, and a kill switch ready to stop your details leaking if ever your connection fails. In addition, Surfshark boasts a private DNS and an extra security blanket via a double VPN hop. Not to mention a logging policy whereby only your email address and billing information are kept on record. It's fast, too, whether you're connecting to a US or UK server or somewhere further away - say in Australia and New Zealand. Handy if you're trying to access your Netflix account from abroad.
If you're somebody who is easily bamboozled and, ultimately, put off by complicated menus and myriad options, Surfshark could be the best VPN for you. It keeps its interface completely stripped back and free from complication. All you'll really see are options for 'Quick connect' and 'All locations', accompanied by a Settings icon, and nothing else at all really. Whether that level of detail (or lack thereof) is a boon or a drawback entirely depends on your perspective.
One of our favorite things about this VPN service (other than the price) is the fact that your subscription covers an unlimited devices and services. So if you plan to use your VPN on your laptop, desktop (compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux), tablet, a couple of mobile phones (iOS and Android both covered) and Amazon Fire TV Stick for watching overseas TV, the one account will cover you on all of them simultaneously.
Surfshark offers a 30-day money back guarantee, giving you plenty of time to give it a try before committing for a longer period. And even then, annual plans are very reasonably priced indeed.
One of 2020's best value VPNs
While Surfshark loses out to Express when it comes to sheer all-round quality, security and support, Surfshark has bite when it comes to pricing. Subscribe to a longer plan and you can bring the monthly spend down to less than $2/£2.
Private browsing via VPN or proxy server
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, connecting via servers in the US, UK, or Netherlands (other options are visible in the drop-down menu, but are only accessible in the premium edition). The free service also places a large banner at the top of each web page, but it’s an advertisement for Hide My Ass’s own products – your data isn’t forwarded to third-party advertisers. It also supports HTTPS connections.
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.
KProxy is fast and free, with a portable browser for surfing on the move
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 paid-for version, KProxy Pro, gives you access to ‘premium servers’, which it claims are ‘never overloaded’, implying that the free service may sometimes slow down under the weight of traffic, but we barely saw any impact on speed.
As ever with free services, there are limitations: you can only browse free 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.
Free proxy with paid-for VPN option
However, while some proxy services focus on anonymity and privacy, ProxySite has a couple of settings that could make it potentially useful for a wider audience.
For example, in the ProxySite settings you can select from a wide range of user-agents. On the one hand, this makes it less likely anyone could possibly identify the actual device that you are using, but it does also mean that webmasters and web designers could use it to test accessibility options on their own sites.
There's also an option to set a custom referrer rather than a real one, which is another interesting privacy protection, especially for a free tier.
There is a paid-for version of ProxySite available, which is effectively a VPN service that provides encryption, and also aims to correct compatibility and display problems that can sometimes plague proxy services, especially free ones.
ProxySite Premium is available for $9.99 when paid monthly, or $5.99 if pre-paid for a year.
Best free proxy servers
Our #1 free VPN
Although Hotspot Shield is primarily a VPN rather than a proxy, it does offer better security and as a free VPN also reckon it's the best. You can choose to anchor yourself to one of 25 countries if you pay for the Elite version of Hotspot, and this should enable you to access just about anything you want; in the free version, you're limited to locations that Hotspot Shield chooses for you and put up with ads.
Those on the free plan can protect up to five devices simultaneously, and are limited to 500MB of data per day (so around 15GB per month). That may sound restrictive, but it's actually one of the more generous free VPN limits. If security is your sole aim, then Hotspot is on the same wavelength, boasting 'military-grade encryption' - comforting if you do your banking and shopping online or by mobile.
In addition to security, Hotspot Shield Free also won plaudits in our testing for being so friendly to use. Whether on its mobile version or on desktop, you won't find it the hair-pulling user experience offered by some competitors.
That said, getting started is a little bit of a pain with Hotspot requiring you to go through a seven-day trial of the premium version first. That's all very well and good, but that involves giving them your credit card details in case you decide to carry on with the full version once the trial is completed. However, can of course then go for the free version once the premium trial has expired.
Speedy, anonymous browsing from a service that won't keep data indefinitely
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.
Like all free web proxies, 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.
Turn a home PC into a remote proxy server to anonymize your internet use
Privoxy might not have a flashy graphical interface, but it’s not too tricky to set up. The main difference between this and the other free software here is that you’ll need your own PC to act as a proxy server when you’re elsewhere (so you can access the internet from a public Wi-Fi network as though you were using it from home).
Our friends at Lifehacker have put together a handy guide to securing and anonymizing your internet connection using Privoxy together with LogMeIn Hamachi. Once set up, this duo will protect all incoming and outgoing data – not just that accessed via your browser – making it a feasible option for streaming or gaming. The drawbacks is that you’ll need to leave a PC on at home, and a sluggish home connection will leave you frustrated.
Like other free web proxies, Hamachi logs your IP address, the sites you visit, the pages and files you view, and when you view them. It may also use tracking cookies to collect anonymous information about you.
Very handy for unblocking videos
FilterBypass is a web proxy service with extra security features available at the click of a mouse, including URL encryption, page encryption, and the ability to disable scripts and cookies – features that are often limited to premium proxies.
FilterBypass supports YouTube and Dailymotion, making it easy to access videos that are blocked in your country. It supports HTTPS, but online stores and banking services are blocked (a way for the company to protect its back in case your data is somehow intercepted).
There’s no mention on the site of where the proxy servers are located, but in our tests, data was routed via Germany.
FilterBypass logs your activity using its services, and – like all free web proxies – will release this information if it’s necessary for a criminal investigation, but it only keeps these logs for a week.
The fastest free proxy server
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 to consider using. You can use it directly through the website, or alternatively use the Firefox or Chrome browser extensions to use the service.
The one negative is the annoying pop-up adverts advertises their paid-for VPN service. If you can live with that then you should probably be fine using Hide Me.