Are proxies safe? What dangers could you face by choosing an unethical provider? In this interview of our ethicality series, Neil Emeigh, the CEO of Blazing SEO, will answer all burning proxy ethics questions.
You can also check out the video interview here:
Are proxies always legal? Are they an ethical product in principle?
“Yes, and yes. In the right hands, in the right context. Obviously, if you use a proxy to hide your identity and try to hack a website or something – that’s illegal. The person using the proxy is creating an illegal act.
It’s no different than if you were to buy a hammer and break some glass with it. The hammer itself is not illegal. The person who bought it and committed the crime is doing something illegal. The same thing on ethics. Proxies themselves are just a tool online that you choose how to use. And how you use it can be ethical or unethical.”
What are the different ways companies acquire IPs?
“There are two big buckets. There are static proxies that will be your data center (proxies). You can also say ISP proxy – it is another term. These are static and hosted in a data center facility. The way they’re acquired, for example, we work with many different ISPs (Internet Service Providers) around the globe, and lease IPs from them. IP itself is not a proxy. We take the IP, put it on our proprietary software on our servers, and create a proxy out of it via our custom proprietary software.
So, that’s how it works: we have relationships with many different vendors. We compile IPs, put them into our server and software, and offer the proxy service to customers.
The other way and how proxies are acquired are residential proxies. So, residential proxies are usually millions of end-user devices around the world. Just a user – it’s not an ISP or a data center that we have a relationship with – just end-users and their devices. It’s just us – one end-user allows us to use their IP address from their device as a proxy. So, it’s no longer the same B2B; it’s more B2C. We have a B2C with the consumers that allow us to use their IPs for building a residential proxy network.”
Why should businesses care about finding an ethical proxy provider? Does it have any legal or marketing implications on the business?
“We talk to our customers and leads that come in. We ask them if they’re working with a company that finds it ethically OK to acquire proxies, especially residential proxies, in malicious ways but the gray way’s probably a better way. That company’s showing you that their ethics are at perhaps a different level than yours. And obviously, ethics is a subjective definition.
So, when businesses ask, ‘Should I care about this?’ Well, do you want to work with a company that thinks it’s OK to acquire IPs from end-user devices that don’t know they’re being used as a proxy? Unfortunately, many providers in the market acquire end-user device proxy IPs with all means necessary. And a lot of times, it means malicious code, malicious software that the end-user doesn’t even know about, and it’s being installed on their computer. Those are called botnets in most cases.
And so, as a business owner, when you’re looking for a proxy provider, it comes down to its principles: ‘If they’re willing to do that?’, ‘What other corners will they cut’, ‘How will they treat me and contract renegotiations?’, ‘Do they care about me?’, ‘Will they go to bat for me?’ They can start spurring up all these and other questions based on how they’re acquiring their residential IPs.”
How is Blazing SEO getting its proxies?
“I explained how we acquire our static IPs. We have a B2B relationship with Verizon, Comcast, Spectrum, or whoever we’re working with. And we lease IPs from them. On the B2C side, the residential side, there are two ways.
First, we use proprietary software in partnership with the company Cash Raven. The company acquires IPs by working with customers or users who say, ‘Yes, I want to sign up for your site Cash Raven, and I want to sell my bandwidth and my IP address to you’, which then gets sold to us. So, we pay Cash Raven, who then pays the end-user, and it’s a win-win situation. The end-user says, ‘Yes, I know my device will be used as a proxy. I’m aware of some of the risks around that, ‘I’m okay with that. I want the money; pay me for taking on that risk and selling my unused bandwidth.’ So, we have this great relationship there and back.
Another way is we resell from a handful of other providers on the market that meet these same ethical requirements that we have. We could work with a lot that would expand our pool size, but we don’t because they don’t meet the same ethical standard: the end-user must be getting compensated in some way for the IP they are sharing. Reselling is very common in the industry, by the way. There’re very few providers who have their own because it’s hard to get that many millions of IPs. We have a relatively our own portion, but then we also resell, and everyone wins at the end of the day.
So, we have controls in place to check and make sure bans are happening and not happening. We send traffic to different pools, which diversifies everything further, which is really great.
So, we make sure that those two paths are ethical at the end of the day. That the end-user definitely knows what’s going on. And then either via a form of compensation, or we give them, for example, a better experience in a game app that they’re playing. We can give them free goodies in the game or take away ads or other things, and they’re still saying, ‘Yes, I’m aware of being used as a proxy.’
We remind them every 30 days and say, ‘Hey, by the way, you’re still being used as a proxy, is that okay? You still want an ad-free experience?’. We do these nudges because we want them to be aware of what they’re signing up for and committing to.”
How exactly has taking an ethical route affected Blazing SEO?
“By taking this ethical approach, our pool size is a little smaller than the others. And I say little; actually, it’s a lot. Because again, a botnet, that’s how you can get hundreds of millions of IPs; if you want to do it that way, that’s illegal.
So, our pool size, from one side, is smaller. The other side where it hurts us, but we’re proud of this, is vetting our customers. So, when a customer comes to us and says, ‘Hey, I want to use your residential proxies.’ We make sure it’s for legal and ethical use cases. Legal is a little clearer: what the law says and is. Ethical, there’s a big range there. And so, we’ve turned down customers, tens of thousands of dollars, where they said, ‘Hey, I’m looking to introduce a new provider, I want to pay ten thousand dollars a month.’ We say, ‘Okay, great. Tell us your use case.’ And they’ll explain their use case transparently and say, ‘Yeah, I look to do mass spam.’ And we’re like, ‘Wait a minute, we’re not gonna use you.’
Well, funny enough, they’re coming to us. One of the questions we ask our lead when we intake them is, ‘Who are your current providers?’ and they mention a lot of the known providers on the market.
So, again, ethics is a subjective definition, and everyone has their definition of ethical. But we’re confident and proud that when we see people coming to us, and when we say no, we’re willing to turn down all this money. And we see our competitors saying they’ll take everything. But it tells us that we’re doing something right. We believe it’s the long-term future.”
On Blazing SEO’s website, it states that you’re the only provider that meets your standard of ethical acquisition of residential proxies. Does that mean that you see yourself as the only ethical proxy provider in the market?
“Absolutely not. And again, ethics is a subjective definition. I’m not antagonizing most people in this area. Many providers are ethical. They have the same kind of relationship with the end-user device, which the market should have more of.
Many are not. And the way you, as a business owner, can determine that (if you care about this, back to the previous question of why businesses should care about it) is by asking them.
Everyone on their website says they’re ethical and vet clients, as do our competitors. But the example I gave previously shows that their vetting is based on a subjective definition.
We think mass spamming is not something that’s ethical. Others do. So, you have to determine where your ethical stance is. That’s subjective to you, and everyone has their way.
And then, based on that, ask the questions to determine: ‘Do I feel safe and comfortable using this network? Am I going to use an IP that someone doesn’t know I’m using, which could be illegal? Could it somehow come back to me?’ Those are questions you start asking yourself, and then ultimately, you can come to a decision.”
Is proxy consent enough? Is it safe to be a proxy peer?
“Those are the questions we hear from the end-users, especially. But then our business customers are like, ‘Wait a minute. How is this? Are they aware that I’m sending my proxy traffic through them?’
It’s legal. They’re aware of it; at least our end-users are aware of it. They’re not hiding it; we’re not just tucking it in terms of service. They’re aware.
Is it safe? It depends on what traffic is going to that end-user. So, again, if a proxy company allows any traffic to go to the end-user devices, even if the end-user devices are aware of being a proxy, most end-users don’t know what kind of traffic can be sent through a proxy. Nefarious people use it to hack, for example.
And so, although they want to be a proxy, they’re not saying, ‘Yes, I want my IP to be used for hacking,’ right? And so, it’s important on the products. That’s on us, proxy providers, to vet our customers. To ensure they are not doing something that we would consider to be definitely illegal – that’s a no.
And it fits within our ethical stance, ‘No, we don’t allow that’. So, we’re protecting the end-user from something they don’t explicitly know and shouldn’t have to know. We just want to protect them at the end of the day.”
On a broader scale, how do you think the topic of ethics will impact the market going forward?
“A lot has evolved over the years. Botnets, unfortunately, have been around since the age of the internet. In this new era of proxies, and especially data gathering, web scraping is growing rapidly. And with that growth, people need to fulfill their business data needs. It drives supply and demand.
‘Hey, there need to be stronger and better proxy networks out there.’ Unfortunately, on that demand side, it will create some companies to choose ‘Hey, my customers need more IPs, so I need to choose an unethical approach to get millions of them.’
And then there’s another path that says: ‘No, for the long term. The decades into the future. Even though it means fewer customers, the ethical approach means fewer acquired IPs. It’s the right approach because, at the end of the day, the law will catch up with the unethical side of things.’
So, it works today, and that’s where people and companies can cut corners, and make more profit before the law catches up with them. But we believe that many unethical approaches are being used in the market today, not any individual that I’ll single out. But in the general market, corners are being cut because the laws don’t really exist.
And so, we believe that in the future, as data itself becomes the next oil, as they say, proxies have to follow suit in terms of being ethical and obviously legal and be ahead of the laws. Ethics have to be ahead of the law. So, we’re confident in the path we’re going, our customers appreciate it, and we’re happy where things are at today.”