Most countries around the world censor the Internet to a degree, which can make for a frustrating surprise when you open your laptop lid in another country. (For example YouTube has been blocked in Turkey for the past two years.) As inconvenient and questionable as Internet censorship is, it’s generally ineffective against a few free pieces of software.
A Quick Look At How (Most) Censorship Works
Let’s focus on government censorship, although there are other kinds like Google omitting search results based on the country you’re in. Most work by blocking your direct access to a website – point A to point B. (An oversimplification but you get the idea.) Governments don’t have chips planted in your hard drive letting China know you’re in Beijing, they simply block access to specific websites on their end. That’s where proxies come in.
- A proxy is basically a computer in an uncensored part of the world between you and the blocked site. Your computer connects to the proxy and the proxy connects to the website.
The government in between doesn’t know the difference (since access to the proxy isn’t blocked) and you surf the web freely without noticing the proxy. Think of the proxy as the friend you send to talk to your girlfriend when she’s not speaking to you.
4 Free Proxies To Beat The Man
Proxies aren’t the end all solution to getting around local government censorship but they are a good place to start and often all you’ll need.
- Hotspot Shield [download]- Probably the easiest proxy to use although very ad-heavy. Download, install, activate and you’ll be surfing the Web as though you’re located in the United States.
- Free VPN – A good Hotspot Shield alternative with a cleaner interface; Free VPN is Windows-only.
- UltraVPN – Not as smooth or sleek as Free VPN but it works on Mac. (You’ll need to sign up for a free account to use it.)
- Foxy Proxy [download] – This Firefox plugin gives you access to individually blocked sites as opposed to sending your entire connection over the proxy connection.
Keep in mind that proxies aren’t encrypted or secured connections – you’ll still need to practice good computer security habits and lock down your laptop. Also, since you’re rerouting online traffic through the proxy your overall Internet connection will be slower.
Another great use for regional proxies is to get cheaper airfare and tickets. Prices are often lower for American consumers so by making your computer seem like it’s in the US you can book the same flights for less overseas.
Another thing about proxies is that governments have a habit of catching on to them from time to time making them unavailable, albeit not usually for long.
Staying Invisible Online
These programs keep your web surfing and location anonymous, which is especially useful in places where your browsing may be monitored (and get you in trouble).
- Tor [download] – One of the most misunderstood pieces of privacy software, Tor makes it nearly impossible for someone to trace where you are and what you’re surfing online. It can also help you get around regional censorship, although it’s blocked in several countries.
- JonDo – Not the most intuitive program to set up, JonDo hides your traffic and is specifically configured to circumvent many forms of regional censorship. JonDo integrates completely with Firefox and Safari.
- Turn Off File Sharing – So that you’re not inadvertently sharing sensitive or personal files.
Another good idea is to secure your basic web connections, not only protection against snooping government eyes, but also against malicious hackers in the most dangerous Internet countries. Luckily, with a click, the Firefox plugin HTTPS Everywhere [download] will do that for you.
There Are Still More Ways To Beat The Censors
For longer trips you can consider setting up your own virtual private network or buying access to a ready-made one like Hamachi. You might not think much about what’s blocked at your destination before a vacation but do consider the taboo online topics. Whether it’s democracy, pornography, or kittens sleeping on puppies, save any locally questionable browsing for freer Internets…or just cover your tracks very well.