A VPN acts like a middleman between you and the internet. When using one, you send your encrypted web data securely to the VPN server. From there, the VPN service relays that data to the broader web unencrypted. That way, websites won’t be able to trace any web inquiries you make back to you. At a larger scale, VPNs are configured at the operating system level and capture everything that goes through your device. So, for example, if you enable a VPN on your smartphone, all of your web browsing, social media apps, games, and even app store updates are passed through the VPN.
This also means that VPNs are better for privacy and security when compared to proxies. For example, if you’re visiting another country and need to access your banking apps or emails, VPNs are an ideal choice here. VPNs are typically paid in the form of a subscription; some free options do exist, though they tend to come with heavy restrictions and may not be as private as you’d like.
Proxies work in a similar way to VPNs except they don’t offer any sort of encryption. This means it’s much easier for websites and apps to detect that you’re not actually physically located where your IP address says you are. Proxies work best for more mundane tasks like bypassing the video streaming quality restriction some wireless carriers have in place. But generally speaking, you don’t want to use a proxy if you’re trying to access sensitive data such as your banking apps.