You are likely to have experienced a situation where you enthusiastically type a URL on your browser or click on a link you came across on social media only to see the all-familiar text ‘This Website is Unavailable in your Location.’ What you encountered that one time or severally is known as geo-restriction or geo-blocking.
Geo-restriction limits content to specific geographical locations due to licensing issues; fraud prevention, companies’ need to abide by jurisdictional tax codes or to avoid shorting themselves, especially if their goods’ prices are location- or time-sensitive; and to prevent gambling in countries that outlaw the practice. Of course, these are rational reasons, but it still feels discriminatory.
Fortunately, you can get around the problem. Websites enforce geo-blocking using IP addresses. An IP address is a unique number that identifies a particular computer in a network. It also contains location markers. Thus, all you have to do to avoid getting geo-locked is by changing your IP address. Proxy servers or VPNs do this effectively, but because they are different from each other, you should understand what each option entails and which of them to choose.
What is a proxy server?
A proxy is an intermediary found between a user’s personal computer (PC) and the internet. It is considered a gateway because it intercepts web traffic, essentially stopping direct communication between a web client (browser) and a web server. At the stopover (proxy), web requests originating from a PC are assigned a new IP address before being directed to the target website. Proxies, therefore, hide the real identity (IP address).
These tools play a crucial role in bypassing geo-restrictions by assigning an IP address from a region wherein the content isn’t blocked. For instance, if you need to access content that only people in Germany can view, you can use a Germany proxy. This proxy will assign your computer a German IP address, effectively deceiving web servers into thinking you are located in Germany. After all, they only rely on IP addresses for location information. Visit the Oxylabs website for more information about proxies.
Benefits of proxy servers
Besides providing access to geo-blocked content, proxies offer the following additional benefits:
- They improve security by filtering content sent via HTTP (HTTP proxies), preventing email phishing (residential and datacenter proxies), and blocking access to malicious sites
- They prevent server crashes by balancing internet traffic – under this arrangement, the proxy service providers distribute a company’s content among multiple servers; thus, visitors get connected to the nearest server, in effect preventing server overload
- They save bandwidth by caching frequently accessed files; in so doing, they free the bandwidth up for other vital tasks
- They provide online anonymity, preventing malicious individuals from tracking a company’s or your online activity
- They promote productivity in the workplace by blocking access to specific websites
- They facilitate web scraping
Drawbacks of proxy servers
- They do not encrypt internet traffic or the files
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
A virtual private network is a secure tunnel created between your network or computer and the VPN service provider’s server (exit node) located thousands of miles away. Notably, the secure tunnel is a result of encryption, meaning that VPNs are more secure than proxies, but this comes at a cost, as we’ll detail below. When using a VPN, your computer acquires the exit node’s IP address. As with the other example, if you select an exit node located in Germany, you will be assigned a German IP address.
Benefits of VPNs
VPNs have the following benefits:
- They bypass geo-restrictions
- They enhance security through encryption, which means your IP address, location, data, files, and passwords are kept safe from hackers or even your internet service provider (ISP)
- They prevent data and bandwidth throttling by your ISP by protecting your internet traffic. Thus, your ISP cannot easily determine your data usage or the volume of web traffic.
- They provide network scalability, especially in a company setup. Each employee with a password can access and use the VPN application, meaning that VPNs have more bandwidth provisions depending on user demands.
Drawbacks of VPNs
VPNs have the following drawbacks:
- The encryption slows down the connection speeds
- Some VPN service providers store their clients’ communication logs, which they sale to the highest bidder or can hand over to authorities when prompted by a court order
- Usually, they require complex configuration and are, therefore, unideal for beginners
Comparatively, the drawbacks of VPNs exceed those you are likely to encounter when using proxies. Furthermore, the uses/benefits of VPNs are not as diverse as those of proxies. In this regard, proxies are a better choice than VPNs. Let’s take the Germany proxy as an example – this proxy will provide access to geo-restricted content as well as enable you to extract data from German websites. In contrast, you cannot achieve the same with VPNs.