A reader wrote me to ask if I would use a web proxy anonymizer service. I wrote back to tell him that my answer was a simple "No."
It boils down to two things: (1) if you’re afraid of a web site operator knowing who you are, you shouldn’t be going to the web site, and (2) think of a web proxy anonymizer as handing all your web traffic to an intermediate stop on the way to and from your web destination.
I know nothing specific about the particular proxy service he mentioned. My comments below are general comments about the capabilities of proxies, even ones providing their service to anonymize your web surfing, and are not an accusation of improper behavior by any of them or any particular one.
In normal Internet use, different data packets to and from your computer and your web destination can take different routes from your computer to the destination. One good thing about this is that, if someone tries to set up in the middle (past your ISP and before the destination), they may be able to intercept some of the data packets but likely can not get all of them. Your next web page request, even to the same site, may take an entirely different route, too.
By using a proxy service, you’re making the proxy site a trusted site — not officially in Windows’ security settings, but you’re making them a site that will know exactly where you go and what you do. They could use this to replace all ads in sites you see with their own ads, if they wanted. Or even add advertising where it didn’t exist before. They could use the information for other purposes, too, including more nefarious ones. Or, they could even insert bogus results to you, such as sending malware instead of the file you thought you were downloading, or sending you to a phishing site instead of the bank web site you wanted.
Finally, we all enjoy the "free World Wide Web." But, we have to remember that nothing is really free. Someone is paying for the creation of the information you enjoy and the costs of making it available and free to you — most often, web sites are funded by advertising on their sites. Sometimes they’re paid to display ads, but that’s not very often. More often, they’re paid by advertisers based on the actions of visitors — their clicks, visits, signups, and purchases. By using an anonymizer, you’re often eliminating the ability for the advertiser to know where you came from — and eliminating the possibility that the web site you enjoyed is able to be funded by its advertising.
In summary, I’m against the anonymizers for three reasons. First, if I’m afraid of a web site knowing who I am, I shouldn’t be going there. Second, I am not willing to hand the anonymizer operator the ability to track everything I do on the web. Finally, as a publisher of a free web site publisher and free newsletter, both of which are supported by advertising, I don’t like anything that intentionally tries to block advertising or the block the ability of advertisers to know that a visitor to their site (or a customer) came from my site.
By the way, after writing the above article, just to make sure that I was not off-base on my thoughts and comments, I looked at Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), Wikipedia’s article supported my views. You can read Wikipedia’s article here: Anonymizer. That article mentions the purposes and some of the dangers, and links to an even more blunt article on the risks of using proxy anonymizers.