On Ethical Proxy IP Acquisition and Use

A guest article by Neil Emeigh, CEO of Blazing SEO.

The contents of this opinion piece are solely the responsibility of the author.

For years, our messaging was clear: “do not buy residential proxies.”

We never denied that they were more authoritative than data center proxies, or that they would allow you to scrape web data faster. But they were, as our Proxies 101 eBook said, “often obtained illicitly [or] stolen from ISPs.” Using these IPs was not only outright unethical, but potentially put the user at risk by tying them up in dangerous legal action. And let’s face it: this has been an open secret for years. 

But let’s back up a bit. There are many who would claim that proxies are, in and of themselves, an unethical product. The very nature of the proxy is to conceal, to deceive – to hide one IP address behind another. And the most common use case for proxies – the one we advertise all over the Blazing site – is web scraping, which a number of large companies take public issue with. There are many who would conflate this sort of scraping with far more serious breaches of privacy, like the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Obviously, I disagree, and I’ll tell you why. Those same large companies that tell you that scraping their site is wrong? That ban such practices in their terms of service? That issue legal action against doing so? They’re all web scraping themselves.

And by and large, they’re doing it out in the open. I won’t name names, but you and I are both thinking them. The search engines that literally wouldn’t exist without the ability to crawl the entire internet on a daily basis. The job sites that aggregate listings from other job sites. The social media platforms that monitor user behavior at massive scale. They all want the right to your public – and sometimes private – data, but they don’t want smaller businesses to have access to that data for themselves.

Forget. That. You can’t have it both ways.

Furthermore, I ask you this. Is it wrong for me to look at a public webpage? Certainly not – after all, that’s what it’s there for. Is it wrong for me to look at several webpages relevant to a particular topic? Of course not. Is it wrong for me to pull insights from those pages, maybe write down the prices of several of our competitors’ products for comparison? No jury would convict me.

All a scraper does – a GOOD scraper, that is – is do the same thing at a much larger scale. And since at least 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced every day (that’s “25” followed by 17 zeros, for those at home), you can see how efficient data scraping is not only the best way to keep up with the Information Age – it’s the only way.

So that brings us back to proxies. The way I see it, a residential proxy provider has a responsibility to protect three groups of people, in this order:

  1. The owners of the IP pool you’re using
  2. The users and owners of the website your proxies visit
  3. The customers using your IPs

Why this order? Your first responsibility is to your IP pool, because without them, you’re nothing. And because these are, by and large, ordinary human beings who may not understand the arrangement they’re getting into, and who are entirely at your mercy. They only benefit to the extent that YOU are giving them some kind of benefit in return for their IP addresses.

Then, the website you’re scraping, because they didn’t exactly opt into the scraping process. Sure, anything they put out in public is fair game – that’s what the word “public” means, after all. But to go beyond the public, to log into anything, to extract private data not meant to be seen by the world…well, in our day and age, I’m sure I don’t need to explain the evil such actions always lead to.

And if you’re protecting your pool by enforcing ethical acquisition, and protecting site owners and users by enforcing ethical usage…well, then the third point – protecting your customers – takes care of itself! Yes, the rumors are true: Blazing SEO is a for-profit business. And while emphasizing ethics is important to me first and foremost because it allows me and my team to look ourselves in the mirror each night, it’s also a practical business maneuver that means our customers never have to worry about getting caught up in legal action, or having their IPs go down because they were a part of said action.

Ethical Acquisition

First, I want to note that our ethical acquisition and usage policies are available for all to see on our website here – you can also see me discuss them on our YouTube channel in videos like these. I say this only to note that I’m not giving away some big secret here – this isn’t an exclusive scoop for our friends at Proxyway, and you’ll find that my message has been the same ever since our residential offering first launched earlier this year.

We obtain residential proxies through two methods. The first is through our Cash Raven app, which offers users a simple proposition: let us use your IP address as a residential proxy, and we’ll pay you whenever we do. The second is to resell from from other providers that meet our same standards of consent. Currently, this is a single provider who pays end users money in exchange for bandwidth just like Cash Raven does.

In all cases, users are told the deal upfront: let us use your IP address, and you get something very clear in return. They can also opt out at any time with no resistance – in Cash Raven’s case, this is as simple as pressing a giant power button in the app itself.

Many of our competitors use similar methods, or at least claim to. What sets us apart, in my opinion, is that we’re not gaining consent through a few lines of text buried in a massive ToS that, let’s face it, no one on earth is ever going to read. And we don’t just check in with users once and then hope they forget about us. We are constantly reminding them of what we’re using their IP address for and checking in to make sure they’re providing informed, active consent at all times.

Does this affect our pool size? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, for the reasons articulated above.

Ethical Usage

People trust us with their proxies because they like getting money or premium app experiences. But also because they trust us to use their proxies in a way that’s not going to get them banned or involved in legal trouble. No Cash Raven user is going to open Forbes a year from now and read that their proxies were involved in an illegal botnet, because we only permit their usage on a small number of domains.

How do we do this? Go take a look at our residential proxies page and you’ll see that before purchasing, you have to first demo your product to us to prove that your business case is legitimate and meets our ethical standards, and then go through a rigorous, proprietary “Know Your Customer” vetting process.

And then, sorry to say, we’re not just going to take you at your word. Our proprietary monitoring system, trained on hundreds of thousands of proxies over our years in operation, keeps an eye on usage and immediately shuts down any use case that does not meet our standards of ethics and legality. This is in addition to manual spot checks and preventative measures like locking a customer’s account to only access the domains they say they’re going to use.

Does this cost us customers? Oh god yes. We’ve received multiple applications from potential customers who were prepared to buy terabytes of residential bandwidth – thousands of dollars in monthly recurring revenue for us – if we only let them do things that we consider unethical or outright dangerous.

There’s a reason that a lot of providers don’t commit to the same ethical standards we do, and that’s because it has a measurable impact on the bottom line. Nobody said that being the “good guy” was easy. And yet – it’s not impossible. I’m not going to share our revenue numbers here, but trust me: nobody who works for Blazing SEO is going home hungry. The choice between success and your soul is a false equivalence.

Total Transparency

For years, we said “don’t buy residential proxies”. Then we found a better way, and we started selling them. I truly believe that Blazing SEO is taking the right approach to residential proxies and I’m more than comfortable with our ethical standards.

But maybe you’re not. Maybe you still have questions about whether or not “ethical scraping” can truly exist, or about Blazing SEO’s specific implementations. Maybe you think we can do better. To that, I’ll say something no other proxy provider’s CEO is going to say to you: email me. I’ve put myself out there. My name is on this article, my face and voice are on those YouTube videos. I’m happy to personally walk you through exactly where your proxies are coming from.

Because even if proxies are associated with anonymity, it doesn’t mean that the people who sell them should be anonymous. It doesn’t mean that our industry should keep operating in the shadows, obfuscating where their IPs are really coming from, confusing customers by stretching the word “ethics” to its breaking point. 

I welcome any and all competitors to adopt the same standards we do. I welcome any and all CEOs to put their name out there just like I have. If there’s a better way forward, it comes from radical transparency – from turning on the light and scattering whatever roaches still lurk in the darkest corners of the proxy industry.

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