Many people have likely encountered the issue of being unable to access certain websites or online content due to geographical restrictions. For instance, if you attempt to watch the popular series Grey’s Anatomy on the ABC channel from France, you will be blocked from doing so. Similarly, trying to access the French channels M6 or TF1 from certain foreign countries will also result in being blocked.

To bypass these restrictions, individuals can use a proxy or a VPN. However, there is a significant difference between the two options. A proxy simply conceals your IP address, while a VPN encrypts your internet connection, providing an added layer of security and privacy. This can be particularly useful for accessing games or information sources that are not available in your location, such as the popular game Phantasy Star Online 2, which was long inaccessible in France.

Some players, who didn’t want to wait for the official release, were able to access the Japanese servers by using a VPN to conceal their IP address.

Hide the Internet user’s IP Address

There are a few similarities between using a proxy and a VPN. Both are designed to mask the IP address of the Internet user. To illustrate this, let’s take the example of wanting to access a website that is restricted in France, such as Crackle.com, which offers a variety of American films and series. When you try to access the site, you are denied.

An IP address is made up of four sets of numbers and can reveal information such as the network used, an approximate location, and the operator to which you are connected. When you type “crackle.com” into your browser, your Internet service provider (ISP) uses something called a DNS, or global directory, to convert that into an IP address. In the case of Crackle.com, the IP address is 70.37.162.207.

Some ISPs have lists of IP addresses that must be blocked, such as illegal downloading sites and revisionist sites. In this case, your ISP may block access to the IP address 70.37.162.207. Even if your ISP doesn’t block access, the website you’re trying to access can still analyze your IP address. If the website detects that the connection request is coming from France, it can refuse access.

Using a proxy server or a VPN allows you to bypass these restrictions by routing your request through a different IP address. This tricks the website into thinking you’re connecting from a region where access is allowed. Essentially, the proxy server or VPN acts as a gateway, disguising your true location and allowing you to access the restricted website.

Crackle.com, a streaming platform managed by Sony offers American shows, series and films. However, access to it is prohibited from France. When an Internet user tries to connect to it, your operator detects crackle.com's IP and denies you access. Or even, crackle.com can itself analyze your computer's IP, deduce that you are connecting from France and therefore deny you access. © Google Chrome

Crackle.com, a streaming platform managed by Sony, offers American TV shows, series, and movies. However, access to this platform is prohibited from France. When a user attempts to connect to the site, their Internet service provider (ISP) detects the IP address of Crackle.com and blocks access.

Crackle.com can analyze the IP address of the user’s computer, deduce that the connection request is coming from France, and subsequently deny access.

Proxy

A proxy server acts as a middleman between your computer and the server you are visiting. The server will not be able to see your true IP address, it will only be able to see the IP address of the proxy server. This can be particularly useful for online gaming, as many players may be accessing the same server. By using the same proxy server, all of their requests will be routed through the same IP address, which can improve the efficiency of processing.

Using a proxy server can allow players to bypass geographical restrictions. For example, if a video game server based in Kyoto normally denies access to players from France, a proxy server can make it appear as though the players are connecting from Japan.

Note that a proxy server doesn’t conceal your online activities. This means that if you use a proxy server to access a site that is not available in France, it would be possible for spyware to detect your activity.

VPN

A VPN is a complementary and advanced service to a proxy server. Its role is to conceal your entire online activity from the outside world. The term itself, VPN (Virtual Private Network), accurately describes what it does: it creates a secure and private virtual tunnel, which isolates the data exchange between your computer and the server you are visiting.

A paid VPN service offers several dozens of different IP addresses from various locations such as Chicago, Madrid, Shanghai, etc. When you connect to the VPN, your information is routed through one of these servers.

The website you visit will not be able to see your true IP address and it will appear as if you are connecting from Chicago, Madrid, Shanghai, etc. Additionally, the VPN encrypts the data exchanged, so even if someone were to try and spy on your online activity, they would not be able to see anything.

Similarities between proxies and VPNs

  1. They conceal your IP address on the internet
  2. They are compatible with streaming and gaming consoles
  3. They tend to slow down computer activity

What sets proxies and VPNs apart?

Proxies can monitor your activity

There are many free proxy solutions available, such as the proxy offered by HideMe. The downside is that it’s not uncommon for proxy services to monitor your activity and sell it to marketing companies as a way to monetize their service.

On the other hand, VPNs encrypt your activity, allowing for completely discreet and anonymous browsing.

VPNs are usually paid services

It is possible to use a free VPN, but they are usually limited in some way. For example, many antivirus software include a VPN function but it will have restrictions such as data usage limits.

Similarly, the Opera browser offers a free VPN service, but it is limited to a small number of locations. Some paid VPNs also offer free plans such as PrivadoVPN or Hotspot Shield, but these are also typically limited in some way.

Many antivirus software offer a VPN option – like Panda’s Dome software. However, the free version has very limited capabilities. The problem with using a free VPN is that they only provide a small number of substitute IP addresses. This makes it relatively easy for companies like Netflix or Disney to detect these specific IP addresses and block them.

If you want to have a large number of IP addresses and be able to navigate without any issues on sites like these, it’s best to use paid services like NordVPN, HMA, or Cyberghost.

VPNs work on multiple servers

A proxy server typically works for access to one server only. A VPN can work for all kinds of websites and apps. However, there are services such as Smartproxy that offer access to millions of IP addresses, but this specific proxy service is a paid one.

Web activity encryption

As we’ve discussed earlier, the key difference lies in the encryption of your data. VPNs not only hide your IP address, but they also conceal your entire online activity. For example, with a proxy, someone trying to spy on your activity could see which websites you’ve visited. If discretion is a vital factor, using a VPN is essential.

In summary

VPNs and proxies are complementary services that hide your IP address from the server you are visiting. However, a VPN offers the added advantage of encrypting your entire online activity and provides protection against any breaches of privacy.

It can also work on all kinds of websites. It’s important to note that most of the time, you will need to pay a monthly subscription to fully benefit from such a service.