Which proxy can you trust to keep your browsing anonymous?
What is a web proxy?
A web proxy is a remote server that intercepts data travelling between you and the website you’re viewing, helping you stay anonymous online.
It sounds simple, but there are a lot of variables to consider. When choosing a web proxy – free or paid – it’s important to note what form of encryption it uses to secure your data, whether it logs your activity, and how long it keeps those logs for. Speed and convenience are also considerations.
Hopefully it goes without saying that proxies are designed to protect your privacy or bypass censorship, not for illegal activities like copyright violation or hacking, which are always prohibited by the provider’s terms of service.
Free web proxies are handy as a quick way to anonymize your browsing on an ad-hoc basis, but for a more secure option, check out our guide to the best free VPNs.
1. VPNBook Free Web Proxy
Speedy, anonymous browsing from a service that won’t keep your 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, 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 2017.
Try it online: VPNBook Free Web Proxy
2. Hide My Ass
A handy free web proxy for ad-hoc private browsing from three remote locations
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 USA, 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.
Try it online: Hide My Ass
KProxy is fast and free, with a portable browser for anonymous 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.
When it comes to logging, KProxy is less forthcoming – as expected, it logs what you’ve been up to, but it doesn’t specify how long it keeps those records for.
Try it online: KProxy
Turn a home PC into a remote proxy server to anonymize your connection on the move
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.
Download here: Privoxy
Handy for unblocking region-blocked videos, but not suitable for shopping or banking
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.
Try it online: FilterBypass