Residential IPs: There’s no place like home. Especially when you’re at work

Residential IPs

Breathe easy, this isn’t another one of those tedious articles expounding the virtues of WFH (working from home) – many bosses will tell you that ship has sailed. During the lockdowns of the recent Covid-19 crisis, WFH became the norm for many white-collar workers. As popular as the practice was amongst employees, especially Gen Zs, WFH really only replaced one set of problems with others.

Western society as a whole now seems to have settled on a hybrid model, where certain employees can WFH one or two days per week. But despite The Great Resignation, where swathes of people quit their jobs post-Covid with the revelation that they might not need to work so many hours to make ends meet, returning to The Office seems to be popular.

Especially now inflation has pushed up the cost of living. Folks need the money again. And the office isn’t all bad. After all, you can’t have an affair with someone from accounts in your PJs at your kitchen table, and in the winter months, the boss heats your workplace. But then there’s the cost of the daily commute and having to get dressed before 9 am. Swings and roundabouts, huh?

There are certain times when you’re running a business when you don’t want your competitors to know what you’re up to online. Never more so than when you’re researching their offerings or testing your own dynamic pricing or SEO (search engine optimization) techniques for whatever service or product you might be selling.

As a result, there are many businesses that need to make their internet activity seem as if it’s just a regular citizen doing a bit of price comparison research or looking for the best online deals.

Residential IPs

This is where the facility of residential IPs – also known as ‘residential proxies’ become so useful for businesses wanting to undertake competitive analyses and neo-covert testing of their e-commerce activities. So, what exactly are residential IPs and how do businesses best leverage the benefits they offer?

Proxies are what’s known as ‘middleman’ servers, acting as encrypted and anonymized intermediaries between a personal or business device, say an iPad or laptop, and the entire internet. Proxies are usually provided by companies that also offer virtual private networks (VPNs) and the two facilities are commonly used in conjunction with one another.

However, there are two main types of proxy servers, a residential proxy, and a commercial or ‘data center’ proxy. The latter server types tend to be faster and can handle more data, great if your online shop is offering data-hungry interactive experiences like Virtual Reality or Metaverse-type stuff, but such servers are recognizable via their IP addresses as coming from data centers that service SMEs and corporations (for example Amazon Web Services or perhaps Microsoft’s Azure network). 

A residential proxy uses an IP address provided by Internet Service Provider (ISP) – this means they appear to be used by the public from a suburban or rural home environment. Such proxies are less likely to be identified and possibly blocked by the target websites that businesses are seeking to research.

That’s because the data center’s dynamic IPs are often blocked by certain e-commerce websites, says Skyscanner or Agoda, because those sites contain clauses in their terms of use forbidding their access by ‘web scraper’ software.

Web scrapers and the law

Web scraping is not criminally illegal, but the practice may well fall under civil litigation jurisdiction. Even though all the information and data on a website like Agoda, mentioned above, may be publicly accessible, its publishers don’t want their site’s content to be harvested automatically for nakedly commercial purposes by competitors. In fact, a few moment’s research brings up this clause in the Agoda website terms of service:

“… you agree not to use our Platform and/or its content to…use manual or automated software or processes to monitor, copy, extract, export or otherwise scrape any material displayed on our Platform, including text, graphics, photographs, images, illustrations, audio, video, data, ratings, reviews and other information (“Content”). …”

In effect, whilst data scraping isn’t illegal, it’s against almost every target website’s terms of use, and the company performing the scraping can be sued for considerable damages. Some companies use residential proxies to perform the scraping, as the scraping bots aren’t picked up by scraping detection systems from residential IP addresses. Obviously, no one is condoning the practice of web scraping against a site’s T&Cs, but companies should be aware of the potential litigation it could cause.

Staying safe from malware, baddies, and hackers

A residential proxy connection can also frustrate hackers, malware, and spyware, keeping a business’s data safe and secure. Browsing is anonymized and there is no indication that the user of the unidentifiable residential proxy is any other than a regular citizen. Hackers and phishing operators tend to target low-hanging fruit, businesses that are obviously unprotected online, who probably have older technology with fewer protections in place. The older the machine, the less likely it is to have the most up-to-date firewalls, etc.

For that very reason, nowadays, it’s really important not to keep any intimate photos of ex-lovers or partners on a hard drive. There are reports of scraping devices powered by AI scanning people’s computers for compromising photos and creating deepfake very rude composite images. Beware, a naughty picture of you or your partner in some Mexican hotel on that steamy vacation might soon pop up on the internet!

The other advantage of using residential proxies is the ability to effectively swap geo locations, as most VPN and proxy providers have networks of servers internationally. If a company has an e-commerce site and wishes to test its dynamic pricing and SEO (search engine optimization) strategies, it can simply choose to test from a server in a given location.

If the business’s website is intended to offer a cheaper price for a product or service in a different area (say a hotel room searched for from Michigan as opposed to Manhattan) then the company can simply choose from a plethora of IP addresses without leaving their office, wherever it may be located. And that’s not just in the USA, most proxy server providers offer locations as far-flung as Russia, China, Brazil, and hundreds more territories.

Statistics & Dashboards

In summary, not only do proxy server providers give access to the web from wherever, but they also usually offer detailed usage statistics that provide priceless competitor and business intelligence from the data collection process. This saves the customer from having to invest in parsing software, which turns scraped data into a legible format for import into, say, spreadsheets. It also means that analyzing the intelligence gained is a simple process, without having to employ expensive business consultants.

Like we said, there’s no place like home, even if it is a residential IPs proxy!

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