Businesses increasingly seek and incorporate ways to access and use data to create competitive advantages. This is especially so in the wake of big data analytics, which offers advantages such as price optimization, efficiency, customer acquisition and retention, risk monitoring capabilities, innovation, and more.
As a result, technologies such as proxies and web scrapers, which aid in data collection, are taking center stage.
What is a Proxy?
A proxy server is a computer that intercepts communication between a browser/web-based application and a web server. It routes all incoming and outgoing traffic, assigning the web requests a new IP address that anonymizes them.
By masking the real identity of the user’s computer, proxies enable users to undertake numerous activities and processes, some of which may otherwise lead to IP blocking.
Different Types of Proxies
All proxies anonymize internet traffic by masking the IP addresses of users’ computers. However, only a few proxy servers, namely residential and datacenter proxies, are well suited for certain sophisticated applications.
Their suitability arises from their reliability, speed, and security. Still, they have different characteristics.
What is a Proxy: Residential Proxies?
A residential proxy assigns IP addresses that belong to real users and, therefore, route traffic through these users’ computers. This arrangement makes residential proxies fast, secure, and reliable.
In fact, they are rarely blocked as web servers usually assume that the web traffic is originating from real users.
However, residential proxies are expensive because residential IP addresses are rare. Additionally, the reputable service providers first seek consent from the end-user.
They also offer compensation/rewards to these individuals. These factors add to the cost of residential proxies. Residential proxies are ideal for large-scale web scraping because of their reliability and speed.
What is a Proxy: Datacenter Proxies?
Unlike residential proxies, which assign IP addresses that belong to real users’ computers, datacenter proxies allot IP addresses generated by data center computers and are, therefore, virtual. In this regard, data center proxies are cheaper but extremely fast.
However, websites easily block data center IP addresses because of their association with bots. This makes them less suitable for large-scale web scraping. Still, they can be used to bypass geo-restricted content or to facilitate ad verification.
Uses of Proxies
Generally, proxies facilitate the following processes:
- Web scraping
- Bypassing geo-restriction
- Filtering content sent by servers, thus promoting security
- Ad verification
1 Web Scraping
Web scraping refers to the process of harvesting publicly available data from websites. Although this process also covers manual forms of data collection such as copying and pasting, it is mainly used with regard to automated data harvesting using bots known as web scrapers.
Web scraping offers data integral to competition, price, reputation monitoring, market research, creation of aggregated databases (news and job aggregation), and search engine optimization (SEO), among others.
Nowadays, however, websites are incorporating anti-scraping techniques to stop data collection. These measures aim to safeguard the data stored in the servers, some of which may be protected under copyright laws.
Such websites use CAPTCHAs, login and sign-up requirements, IP blocking, honeypot traps, user-agent (UA) requirements, and more.
Users can rely on residential proxies to prevent IP blocking and CAPTCHAs. They are particularly effective considering that they ensure that only a limited number of requests originate from a single IP address.
In doing so, they limit the chances of arousing suspicion, which ordinarily causes web servers to display CAPTCHA puzzles.
2. Bypassing Geo-Restrictions
Additionally, proxies also offer access to geo-blocked content. Usually, reputable proxy service providers have a vast network of IP addresses from different countries.
This means that a user, who wants to access content whose viewership is restricted to citizens of a given nation, can simply use a proxy that will assign their computer an IP address from that particular geographical location.
3. Content Filtration
Proxies such as HTTP proxies and transparent proxies are used for content filtration. The former filter files sent by web servers; they also check emails for phishing links, thereby thwarting cyberattacks.
On the other hand, transparent proxies block access to specific websites. In a company environment, such a move is associated with increased productivity.
4. Ad Verification
Proxies also enable companies to undertake ad verification. Organizations use ad verification to confirm whether their ads are displayed by websites that align with their brand and in the format prescribed in the terms and conditions.
The ever-increasing popularity and necessity of proxy servers cannot be denied. As companies look for ways to collect publicly available information from websites, the capabilities and sophistication offered by proxy servers are coming into play.
Specifically, proxies anonymize internet traffic facilitating data collection. They also enable companies to undertake ad verification, access geo-blocked content, and filter content/certain websites to promote productivity and security.
That said, it is crucial to choose a suitable proxy for the task.