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Proxy Ethicality: Interview with Oxylabs

An interview with the Head of Risk Management at Oxylabs.
Vaidotas Sedys
Vaidotas oxylabs thumbnail

Are proxies always legal? Are the users safe? How does Oxylabs get it’s proxies? In this interview of our ethicality series, the Head of Risk Management at Oxylabs, Vaidotas Sedys, will share his thoughts about the ethical and unethical practices in the proxy industry.

You can also check out the video interview here:

Are proxies always legal? Are they an ethical product in principle?

“As with any part of the internet infrastructure, it depends how we acquire and use them. The way proxies are sourced might be unethical or even illegal. It’s crucial to check your proxy provider’s IP source and policies and to make sure they are transparent about it.

Next, it depends on the user himself. Same as many other technology products, proxies can be used for good and bad causes. Here in Oxylabs, we have strict customer verification processes for new customers who want to start using our services. But that doesn’t stop here. Once we onboard the customer, we are using robust automated monitoring and alerting processes to detect if the customer is actually doing based on what the use case was.

Of course, we’re not looking into the content of the traffic, but we still have some ways to detect irregularities and possible abuses. As a result, we carefully monitor irregular traffic related to financial institutions, payment service providers, gaming, and many others.”

You mentioned that some methods of acquiring IPs might be unethical or even illegal. Could you expand on that? What are the different ways to get proxies?

“There are two main types of proxies: residential and datacenter. As the name reveals, datacenter proxies originate from data centers. Proxy service providers are searching for trusted partners worldwide to acquire datacenter IP addresses. Meanwhile, residential proxies can be acquired in two ways. One is to acquire them through an internet service provider, and these proxies are created when the internet traffic is routed through the internet service provider network.

More commonly, residential proxies are created by routing internet traffic through physical devices, which are usually owned by regular people like me and you.

This process requires utmost sensitivity. At Oxylabs, we have developed a tier system that rates residential proxy sourcing methods. This simple system can help you identify if proxy acquisition passes the ethical bar.

To ensure a fair practice model, several things are essential. First, the end-users must be fully aware that they participate in the residential network. Second, they must give their explicit consent. And third, possible proxy network participants should be rewarded.

At least the first two criteria must be met to consider those proxies as ethical according to our standards. That is what we call a tier A model. If the users are also compensated for their participation, this will be tier A+ model proxies.”

Where does Oxylabs get its proxies from?

“At Oxylabs, we are guided by strict rules of ethics and transparency, and we hold our suppliers to the same standards. Our larger provider of residential proxies is called Honeygain with whom we have an exclusive residential proxy provision contract. And Honeygain is a crowdsource web intelligence network which fully informs and rewards their users for participation in the residential proxy network.

Most of our residential proxies are composed of tier A+ model proxies, and the remaining portion is sourced through other part of partners that are contractually obliged to source us with no less than tier A model proxies and internet service providers as well. Such an approach sets us apart in the market, and our clients can be sure that they only use ethically sourced proxies.”

How has taking the ethical route affected Oxylabs? Were there any losses along the way?

“Well, we are here for the long term. And to be successful in the long term, we have to strive to be the best ethical version of a proxy provider.

First, we have a dedicated risk management team. We take care of many things such as ensuring business stability, incident management, and so on. And we also ensure compliance. As a result of these processes, sometimes we have to say no to potential customers because they did not pass our standards, and even when the potential business case is significant.

Next, we only use ethically sourced proxies. We’re always welcome to add new suppliers, but they have to adhere to our standards first. Also, together with our team, we constantly challenge ourselves internally to find accurate but user-friendly ways to detect potential customers with bad intentions. Basically, trust but verify.”

Why should businesses care about finding an ethical proxy provider?

“Firstly, irresponsible choice of a residential proxy supplier threatens your brand image, reputation, and even security.

Nowadays, customers are becoming increasingly aware of issues concerning data use. So, businesses connected to companies that engage in database cybercrime can suffer permanent damage. This damage would come in the form of lost sales, clients, partnerships, and reputation in general.

Confidential information risks also exist here. Low-quality proxies are extremely likely to be exposed to malicious actors who can target unaware proxy users to obtain sensitive information by leveraging man-in-the-middle attacks. And obviously, on top of everything else, questionable origin proxies could compromise your business operations. They might just be unstable, have increased timeouts, and be more sensitive to server bans.”

What signs should customers look for when finding an ethical provider?

“First, check the company’s reputation. Have they ever been involved in a large scandal around how they get proxies or whom they’re selling it to? If yes, you may want to look elsewhere. Our tier system can be a great guide and help you evaluate the proxy provider.

If the proxy service provider cannot share anything about their proxy acquisition, it’s an important warning that something isn’t right. Then they should clearly articulate how consent and awareness are insured. And lastly, make sure to check if the company has strong policies related to what use cases are acceptable and how they validate it.”

What’s your view on the ethical practices of other proxy providers?

“Well, we hope and strive for the whole market to be ethical. And we want everyone to understand that the unethical actions of a few do not reflect the attitudes, values, and behaviors of everyone. We do believe that incidents in which several proxy providers were involved earlier don’t portray the good image of our market itself.

Hence, we strongly urge other providers to implement the best practices. Our industry is still relatively new and is quite complicated. Thus, it’s no surprise that its legal regulation lacks behind. This is why it’s important for proxy providers to be proactive and follow self-regulation frameworks and good principles in general. This is the only way to safeguard the whole market and its reputation.”

Do you think proxy consent is enough? Is it safe to be a proxy peer?

“At Oxylabs, we believe that consent is not enough as it’s often hidden in terms and conditions. Consumers may have no clue what they’re signed up for. This is why our tier system only considers proxy acquisition to be ethical if the end-user gives an informed decision to participate in the residential proxy network.

For example, our largest proxy supplier Honeygain openly communicates that you’ll be part of the proxy network and you’ll be compensated for it. This way, you make a conscious and informed decision about sharing your internet traffic, and if you become a proxy peer on your own terms, it’s generally safe. It’s not safe, however, if you become one unknowingly, through illegal botnets installed in completely innocently looking apps with other purposes. Be careful with these permissions on your random sudoku apps.

As there are many different apps around the web, I would still recommend doing a little bit of research on how the company will be using your internet traffic. Read the reviews, check their reputation. Better be safe than sorry.”

How do you think the topic of ethics will impact the proxy market going forward?

“That will definitely continue to dominate conversations about the proxy industry, for sure.

During our latest Oxycon conference, which usually happens every year during the summer, there was a great analogy mentioned related to the car industry, and I will try to expand it a little bit further.

Cars were invented roughly 100 years ago. At first, they were slow, not really comfortable, and not even safe. And definitely could not go for long distances. Now hundreds of years later, we have many checks and balances in place. We have driver protection: seat belts, airbags, and even systems that notify when a driver is potentially tired.

Next, we have infrastructure: we have speed bumps to slow drivers at critical areas, we have roundabouts which reduce the number of accidents at the intersections, and we have speed traps that detect and find those who are not sticking to the speed limits.

And we have government regulations: people need to have their driving licenses, new car models have to pass the safety test, the car crash tests, and we have police monitoring everything. And as with most new technologies, web scraping is developing way faster than the regulation could safeguard from its potential misuse cases.

Therefore, the industry itself has to take the lead in developing the self-regulation guidelines and standards for the proper use of technology. And after 100 years, probably we’ll have the same checks and balances. This is why at Oxylabs, we prioritize proactive actions towards creating a strong, robust and transparent web data gathering community.

We also aim to educate the customers of proxy services. And the more demanding they are, the less room remains for any questionable reckless driving in the web scraping industry.”