Residential proxies have made a name for themselves as the elite soldiers when it comes to the field of web data gathering. Industry professionals resort to them for the most challenging tasks. When on a mission, residential proxies are very difficult to be identified and blocked.
While all is nice and well from the technical side, this strength might also hide a vulnerability to corrupt practices, namely unethical sourcing.
When it comes to ethical business practices, residential proxies require special attention. That is because in most cases they are the only proxy type intrinsically linked to the devices of people.
Most commonly, residential proxies are created when a person installs certain apps on their phone, laptop, or tablet. These apps include a code that allows third parties to route internet traffic through these devices. Unfortunately, at the hands of unethical entities, this process might abuse the public’s lack of knowledge and include unaware individuals in the proxy network.
"People must be protected from accidental or unwitting entrance to the proxy network. To achieve this on a global scale, we must educate the public and raise their awareness about the reality of unethical practices in the market."
– Julius Černiauskas, CEO at Oxylabs
Clarity, transparency, and fairness are essential components of a healthy proxy service market. That is why Oxylabs took the initiative to categorize all commonly practiced residential proxy acquisition methods into easily distinguishable tiers. They fall into one of the four tiers: A+, A, B, and C.
All methods are evaluated against four criteria: financial reward, information clarity, user awareness, and consent, ranked based on their effect on proxy network participants (people whose device has been connected to the proxy network).
If you are interested where Oxylabs falls in these categories, feel free to consult our Residential Proxy Pool Handbook.
Lowest tier proxy acquisition models support procedures that leave people oblivious to the fact that their device is an active proxy (exit node) utilized by third parties.
Tier B acquisition methods are viewed as occupants of the morally and ethically grey area. Technically, tier B can be considered to be legal because the consent forms are presented to the end-user before connecting them to the proxy network.
However, app consent forms are not known to have a large readership. Even when people make an effort to read them, the terminology is usually intelligible only for proxy industry professionals.
We believe tier C to be absolutely illegal. It operates as malware that automatically connects people’s devices to the residential proxy network. People have no idea that unidentified entities are routing internet traffic through their devices for unknown purposes.
In the extreme cases, malicious actors might use the IP addresses of unaware proxy network participants for illegal activities, such as DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks.
The only positive thing about the low-tier proxy acquisition process is the consent form (tier B only). Still, we must ask ourselves if user consent is enough to ethically onboard residential proxy network participants. Another issue is that not all consent forms, and subsequently received consents, are equally transparent and easy to read.
“The technology tends to move a lot faster than legislators.” – says Denas Grybauskas, Head of Legal at Oxylabs.
“So far, there are no regulations that could obliterate unethical residential proxy onboarding practices. We believe that consent forms alone mean, or at least should mean, very little if worded in undecodable tech jargon or hidden away on page 32 of the agreement that no one will actually read. The problem here is that they tend to blatantly mislead the end-user about what they are agreeing to.”
Clear information is the key ingredient for an ethical proxy service. The application that the end-user is installing should simply and clearly state its true intent. If there is a lack of clarity, the proxy acquisition method cannot be considered ethical.
We draw the line here because the lack of clear information creates ambiguity among proxy network participants. And since ambiguity is not entirely illegal, less ethically-inclined proxy service providers will take advantage of this loophole and try their luck.
Irresponsible choice of proxy service providers could not only result in unethical business practices but also more tangible damages. At Oxylabs, we draw a hard line when it comes to these issues and promote only one course of action: application of the best industry practices and association with the highest tier level providers.
Oxylabs aims to create an ethical and balanced proxy service ecosystem where all parties are treated fairly and equally rewarded. We believe that open information sharing among the lesser-known proxy provision practices in the market will empower companies and individuals to make more ethical choices for themselves and the entire industry.
About the author
Former Communications Specialist
Jurgita Tuzikaite is a former Communications Specialist at Oxylabs. Her inspiration for original ideas comes from observing nature and exploring unknown paths, which often lead to unexpected adventures. Jurgita’s background in humanitarian work has formed her work ethic and moral compass, which resulted in placing positive intention behind everything she does. She values wisdom and places importance on bringing value to other people through knowledge, creativity, and compassion.
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