Netflix cracks down on customers using VPNs, proxies, and unblockers
Netflix says it will step up enforcement against subscribers who use VPNs, proxies, and unblocking services to mask their locations. This will help Netflix prevent customers from watching video that isn’t licensed for viewing in their country, but it may also affect people who use location-spoofing services for security or privacy reasons.
“Some members use proxies or ‘unblockers’ to access titles available outside their territory,” Content Delivery Architecture VP David Fullagar wrote in a post today. “To address this, we employ the same or similar measures other firms do. This technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it. That means in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are. We are confident this change won’t impact members not using proxies.
Luckily, Netflix is now available almost worldwide. But not every show is available everywhere.
Sony and other content owners have been angry at Netflix for not cracking down hard enough on customers who evade geographic licensing restrictions. The crackdown could also affect customers who try to avoid location restrictions when they travel abroad.
While Netflix didn’t mention VPNs (virtual private network) services in today’s post, a Netflix spokesperson confirmed to Ars that the enforcement will target VPN users. Netflix acknowledged that this will “most likely” also cut off people who are in the appropriate country to watch a video but use location-masking tools to boost security or privacy. It’s “hard to filter those folks out,” Netflix acknowledged, so users may need to turn off VPNs and similar tools to watch video regardless of where they live.
Some customers have also used VPNs and third-party DNS services to improve performance. The Netflix service suffered from a lot of capacity problems back when the company was haggling with ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon over interconnection fees, and VPNs and third-party DNS services could re-route traffic around congested points. (Video unblocking services also generally work by modifying a user’s DNS settings.)
That shouldn’t be a big problem now that Netflix has struck deals with the major ISPs, though. “ISPs have been increasing their speeds (as documented by our ISP speed index) and we aren’t hearing the kinds of complaints we were two years ago about issues [with] streaming Netflix,” Netflix told Ars.
But Netflix won’t necessarily be able to identify all customers who use VPNs and proxies.
“Since the goal of the proxy guys is to hide the source it’s not obvious how to make that work well,” Netflix Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt said in a recent interview, according to The Globe and Mail. “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.”
In the long run, Netflix hopes to make all content available to all customers regardless of where they live. But that will take some negotiating, as content owners have historically licensed TV shows and movies separately for each geographic location instead of charging a single price for worldwide distribution.
“We are making progress in licensing content across the world and, as of last week, now offer the Netflix service in 190 countries, but we have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere,” Fullagar wrote.
In the meantime, Netflix must “continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location,” he wrote. “We look forward to offering all of our content everywhere and to consumers being able to enjoy all of Netflix without using a proxy. That’s the goal we will keep pushing towards.”
I’m very glad I didn’t sign up for Netflix! I’ve used one of these services in the past for Youtube videos that weren’t available in the US.