The answer to this question lies mostly in your needs and preferences. It all depends on how much you value certain features such as privacy, price, or maybe unblocking Geo-restricted content. However, it’s important to know that there is a huge difference between these two terms.
So, before deciding which one fits you most, you need to know exactly what they mean. Yes, they can both mask your real IP address and allow you to unblock content, but besides this, they serve two relatively different purposes. So which one should you choose and how will you know whether you need a proxy server or a VPN provider?
Simply said, a proxy is a “computer” located between your device and the Internet. This means that when you are using a proxy, the connection traveling from your computer/device to the website you’re trying to open goes through this proxy server, by also masking your identity. The proxy makes requests to websites and all kinds of Internet services in your name, hiding your real IP address. The websites will see the proxy address instead of yours and then respond to the proxy server, which then sends this information to you.
Furthermore, you will appear to access the website from where the proxy server is located, and not from your location. This means that if you are using a US-located proxy server from the UK, you will access content as if you were in the United States, and not in Europe.
However, there is a downside to this. Whoever is running the proxy server will have access to your online activity, in a similar way that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) does. The proxy owner will also have your real IP address, and unless you are visiting HTTPS websites, all the activity that you do on these websites will also be recorded. There is a difference between an HTTP and an HTTPS website. The second one is encrypted, meaning that after you open it, all of your activity on the website is anonymous.
However, when using an HTTP website, or even downloading or streaming content, everything is visible to your proxy provider. Doing anything that is considered illegal, even downloading the latest episode from your favorite TV show, might put you in danger, because a proxy server has all the information needed to trace this activity back to you.
This is the main difference between a proxy and a VPN server.
A Virtual Private Network is a specialized form of a proxy. So, in theory, it falls under the same category, but basically, it offers many advanced and trustworthy features. A VPN server will also mask your real IP address, and it works in a similar way as a proxy. However, a good provider will keep all of your activity private and anonymous. This means that they will use a variety of encryption protocols and will not store information that might put you in danger. It’s the main reason why VPNs became so popular in the last decade. Simply said, it’s a secure bridge between your device and the content you are trying to reach. As long as the data is encrypted, you shouldn’t face any problems, because nobody can see your online activity or whether you downloaded something or not. Also, VPN providers tend to keep as little data as possible from their users, such as the usage or the connection logs. With this said, it’s incredibly difficult for your ISP or even your government to track your activities.
Keep in mind that even VPN providers vary from one another. Not all of them offer the same set of features, the same levels of encryption or even the same privacy standards.
Which one should you use?
Both proxies and VPNs have pros and cons and as was previously said, you should choose the one that suits your needs best.
Using a proxy server has a few advantages, such as hiding your real location and allowing you to access Geo-blocked content. Also, you can easily find a good yet free proxy provider. Besides, the speed of your connection will be slightly better. However, they don’t encrypt your Internet traffic, and neither your IP address nor your real location is heavily protected.
On the other hand, with a VPN provider, you will get the protection you need. Because all of the traffic between you and the VPN server is encrypted, it’s almost impossible for anyone to see what you do on the Internet. Moreover, using a VPN can help you bypass Geo-restrictions by hiding your IP address. It can protect you from public Wi-Fi networks, and with a good provider you can bypass even the strongest restriction, whether it’s Netflix or The Great Firewall of China. The downside to a VPN is that if you want to get a good one, you will have to pay a certain price. There are free providers on the VPN market, however, it’s almost impossible to find a reliable one. Another con is that, usually, a VPN provider slows down your Internet connection, mostly due to its heavy encryption. Nevertheless, there are many solutions to this problem.
According to both users and experts, using a VPN provider is a better option in many situations, as it has all of the proxy features and other more advanced ones. If you are not worried about who might have access to your online data, and simply want to unblock Geo-restricted content for free, then a proxy should be a good fit for you. However, if you are worried about this, we would definitely recommend using a Virtual Private Network, even if you consider that you might not need one. You will eventually find use in it, as it serves many purposes. However, make sure you find a worthy provider before making this investment. With such huge competition on the market today, it’s hard to keep up with the good ones.
Bottom line, a VPN that will provide you with heavy encryption and advanced security protocols, no logging policy as well as a decent number of servers with good speeds is a much better option than even the best proxies on the market.