Netflix; and all its glory and wonder.
Netflix is available on virtually any device that has an Internet connection, including personal computers, tablets, smartphones, Smart TVs and game consoles. It automatically provides the best possible streaming quality based on users’ available bandwidth. Many titles, including Netflix original series and films, are available in high-definition with Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround sound and some in Ultra HD 4K. Advanced recommendation technologies with up to five user profiles help members discover suggested entertainment based on their viewing or voting preferences.
With the expansion of Netflix into now 190 countries, there has been a renewed interest in Virtual Private Networks (VPN). For some of those who may not have known before that VPNs could serve to unblock region locks on Netflix, may now be aware that VPNs could potentially help Netflix users access additional library content.
Netflix libraries can have huge variances in terms of the number of titles available across each location. The selection of available titles is based upon the user’s IP address so for most users, this corresponds to their physical location. Nevertheless, it means that, for example, a user in Malaysia who accesses the Internet through a U.S.-based router-connection will be able to access the selection available to U.S. users.
Although worldwide Netflix may carry tens of thousands of titles, licensing agreements enforced by production studios which differ by country forces Netflix to provide different library content based on different locations. Netflix negotiates with these studios to arrange deals for streaming certain titles; hence, every region’s list of movies and shows is unique. For instance, AMC’s series ‘Better Call Saul’ aired on Tuesday nights in the US and was allowed to be aired on UK Netflix the following day. The film ‘St. Vincent’ was playing on Netflix France while it was still in the US cinemas.
Finder took it upon themselves to peruse every available Netflix library to see how they compare, and this is their list of content titles based on different countries. (Malaysia can only access 11.08% of USA’s movie library!) While your country’s Netflix library may be lacking, the most compelling reason many users subscribe to VPNs is to access better entertainment content. VPNs allow one to virtually travel to another country and access their Netflix despite physical location limitations, as well as expanding choices for library content in just minutes.
Unless you are living in a country which specifically bans VPNs (say, Iran or Saudi Arabia), the use of VPNs is perfectly legal. Generally, using VPNs for legal reasons is fine in most countries unless you are found to have used it for illegal purposes. In countries that restrict online movie providers, a VPN comes into play sometimes to unlock these sites to gain access to their files and videos.
Making use of a VPN is akin to gun ownership in the US; it is at the option of the VPN user to use it for legal or illegal purposes (such as hiding IP addresses to perform illicit activities). And while a VPN in itself is not illegal, using a VPN proxy may violate the Terms of Service for some sites, including Netflix. There is a difference between breaking the law (could land you in jail) and violating a company’s Terms of Service (your account may get suspended or your service deactivated).
Although officially Netflix does not condone the use of VPNs as it is believed to violate licensing agreements, it is not clear if the company has a way of knowing what you are up to. As Business Insider states, Netflix is in a battle for subscribers. Netflix needs to play the game against other rivals, and punishing violators is not in their interest. HBO’s CEO, Richard Plepler, for one publically admits that he does not care if users are sharing their HBOGo passwords as they are “in the business of creating addicts”, noting that it could potentially lead to more subscribers in the future.
Threats by Netflix to block VPNs have pretty much been back-and-forth, with many believing that Netflix would not make good on their threats to aggressively thwart VPNs and geo-restriction avoidance tools. Even when Neil Hunt, Netflix’s chief product officer, released a statement saying:-
“We do apply industry standard technologies to limit the use of proxies. Since the goal of the proxy guys is to hide the source it’s not obvious how to make that work well. It’s likely to always be a cat-and-mouse game. [We] continue to rely on blacklists of VPN exit points maintained by companies that make it their job. Once [VPN providers] are on the blacklist, it’s trivial for them to move to a new IP address and evade”
Many deduced his statement as subtly admitting how impossible and futile efforts can be in attempting to block VPN users. Many disregarded the statement as only means to appease broadcasters and content partners from whom it licenses their programming.
However, in very recent developments, it seems that the ‘cat-and-mouse game’ has already begun, as it appears Netflix has begun restricting access from VPN users.
Source: VPN Creative
Now, VPN users such as Australia’s uFlix and ExpressVPN have reported being blocked when attempting to watch content outside their countries’ and received warning messages pop out such as the one screenshotted above by one Reddit user.
It appears that after all the speculation that Netflix would not follow through on their fleeting efforts to stop VPNs have been contradicted by these recent events. While the blocks appear to be affecting just a small number of people at the moment, the numbers would soon be expected to increase.
Albeit Netflix has never explained exactly how it will combat VPNs and proxies, but this news suggests it is simply identifying and blacklisting IP addresses associated with these services.
The International Business Times explores the four ways Netflix could be using to kerb users from bypassing their country’s geo-restricted content and accessing other countries’ content:
1) Blacklist popular VPN providers – Listing popular VPN providers known to be used by many people on a blacklist and block any connections from these providers.
2) Block all connections coming from the same IP add – If many Netflix users seem to be connecting through a same IP address, it could probably set off alarms for Netflix that the users are using a VPN. Thus, they could put the VPN on the blacklist even if they may not necessarily know about that VPN yet.
3) Blacklist DNS unblocker services – It is in fact possible for Netflix to test for your actual IP address is by getting your device to ping an external domain, and then by sending the IP address from the external domain to Netflix’s servers. If the IP address appeared differently, then Netflix would know that you were trying to cheat and could block the DNS unblocker’s servers.
4) Restrict users to their billing country – Similar to iTunes and Steam’s practices, Netflix could restrict users to only using Netflix in the same country as their billing information is registered to. (Example: A UK citizen using a UK bank/credit card would not be allowed to subscribe to a US Netflix subscription.
Consumer advocacy group, Choice, stated that the number of people regularly pirating in Australia had dropped by a quarter since the launch of Netflix. If Netflix chooses to lock accounts to one country and apply such rigid restrictions, it would affect its subscribers’ ability to access the service while overseas and could drive people back to piracy.
On the other hand, global licensing could have the opposite effect on piracy, as shown by a 14% drop in the use of BitTorrent, a popular source of illegal downloads, in Australia after Netflix’s official launch there in March 2015. Shifting to global licensing would mean offering the same content on Netflix around the world. While this may very well please paying Netflix subscribers, Netflix would need to strike a balance with those who hold the rights to the content in order to uphold current business relationships with content providers.
 Business Insider
 The Verge
 Tech Dirt