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Netflix blocking VPNs is actually kind of bad

Move could expose subscribers to ISP traffic interference and privacy invasions over unsecured wi-fi.

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Netflix Blocking VPNs:

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So Netflix is finally cracking down on subscribers using virtual private networks and other circumvention tools to get around geo-blocking.

It’s bad news for the estimated one-quarter of Canadian subscribers who use VPNs to access U.S. Netflix and its bigger catalog of content, which is evidently why advocacy group Open Media is bemoaning the move.

“We need a Netflix without borders,” the group urges in its latest campaign. “The move comes in response to pressure from media giants who want to ‘geoblock’ us from our favourite content… Tell Netflix NOW: ‘Stand up to Big Media bullies and do not block pro-privacy VPN technology.'”

The somewhat ham-fisted messaging led to understandable cringing from some observers:

Realistically speaking, Netflix has been lackadaisical in its efforts at stopping customers from circumventing geo-restrictions. The result has been a free-for-all, where anyone armed with a VPN can simply country-hop and access just about any TV show or movie out there.

While there may be plenty of reasons to loathe Hollywood studios and corporate greed in general, that does make it tough for content owners to get a decent return on their products. It also makes it very difficult for Netflix competitors to gain any traction.

Other streaming providers such as Hulu have done a pretty good job at blocking VPN access, but Netflix has been willing to let it slide, probably because the company has been more willing to suffer the wrath of content providers than subscribers.

Now, with the company hitting 75 million subscribers and nearly 200 countries worldwide, that attitude seems to be flipping. Netflix is trying to negotiate worldwide rights for TV shows and movies, so cracking down on VPNs may be part of that bargain.

Of course, company executives themselves still seem to be approaching the whole thing rather half-heartedly and new circumvention techniques are already emerging, but at least the official rhetoric has changed.

Still, Open Media does have a point about the whole thing, but it’s U.S. VPN provider Golden Frog that better explains why it’s problematic.

There are other legitimate reasons to use a VPN while watching Netflix, company president Sunday Yokubaitis writes in a blog post. For one, it’s a good way to get around any throttling of Netflix that an internet provider might be engaging in – a situation that has been well documented.

In the United States, both Verizon and Comcast have purposely slowed customers’ Netflix streams for various reasons, including for financial disputes with the company.

As Yokubaitis writes, subscribers should get the internet connections and speeds they pay for and using a VPN is one way to do that – it can become a “virtual ISP.”

Another good reason to use a VPN with Netflix is to protect your device when connecting over public wi-fi, like that found at many hotels. This is a strong point, since hotel wi-fi is often like a festering sore, waiting to infect anyone who comes near it. A VPN shields its user from that unpleasantness.

Yokubaitis also points out that there is actual value to reverse geo-circumvention. What happens if a Canadian subscriber, for example, finds herself in the U.S. and wants to pick up on a show she was watching at home, but that show isn’t available in the U.S.?

Not being able to watch your favourite shows while travelling is a minor gripe, but there is something to be said about getting what you pay for.

Ultimately, Yokubaitis suggests there’s a better way to enforcing geo-restrictions. Netflix could simply use customer billing information instead, so if you register and pay for service in Canada, then that’s the content you get wherever you go. VPN use is up to you.

Sounds reasonable, right?

2 Comments on Netflix blocking VPNs is actually kind of bad

  1. I think in addition to the billing address for the content they could also look at primary use location. If you use it for six months in Canada two weeks in the US shouldn’t be an issue.

    The geo block was a lot bigger issue in the winter Olympics when for example Canada was in the gold medal game of curling and the US was out of the competition. In Canada CBC was streaming the game live but in the US NBC had the rights and was barely even mentioning it.

  2. Most VPN providers will probably able to circle around what Netflix will do to crack down users with VPN networks

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