Netflix VPN Crackdown, A Year of Frustrations

Opinion

Last year Netflix launched an aggressive campaign to prevent its users from bypassing geo-blockades through VPN services. The crackdown has met fierce resistance around the world but is still in effect. Today we review the current state of affairs with some prominent VPN providers, many of whom voice concerns about the ongoing blocking efforts.

netflix-logoIn an move to appease Hollywood’s major studios, last year Netflix increased its efforts to block customers who circumvent geo-blockades.

As a result, it has become harder to use VPN services to access Netflix content from other countries. However, the measures also affect well-intentioned customers who merely use a VPN to protect their privacy.

This broad blocking policy has sparked wide protests and now that 12 months have passed, we take a closer look at where things stand today.

TorrentFreak spoke to several VPN providers who have to deal with the issue on a daily basis. Some are more open about it than others, but the overall consensus is that Netflix went a step too far by placing copyright protection above security.

“In my opinion, no one should have to sacrifice operational security for entertainment,” Torguard‘s Ben Van Pelt tells TorrentFreak.

Private Internet Access (PIA) sees the measures as a violation of pure Net Neutrality, noting the origin of traffic should be irrelevant. The Internet is a location by itself, they believe.

“It is an odd time when one can pay for a service and not be provided said service when not in the ‘correct physical’ geographical location. The Internet is its own jurisdiction,” PIA’s Caleb Chen says.

It is still unclear how Netflix’s IP-blacklisting works. A few providers have noticed that some of their IP-ranges were already banned before they were active, suggesting that Netflix automatically flags IPs from certain organizations.

Also, there’s a strong suspicion that the streaming service keeps track of how many logins there are from a given IP-address. When this hits a threshold, the address is then supposedly added to the blacklist as well.

The question on many people’s minds is; how effective are Netflix’s measures? According to the providers we spoke with, a lot of their shared IP-addresses were blacklisted quickly.

But, when something’s censored on the Internet, people generally try to find ways around it. This is also true for the Netflix VPN block. The Internet is littered with circumvention tips and tricks and some VPN providers are actively advertising that their service still works.

In reality, however, no VPN provider can guarantee that their service works 100% of the time. In most cases, new IP-addresses are swiftly blocked causing a lot of frustration among users.

“The fact that we have to play this game at all is incredibly frustrating. Lots of people sign up because they hear from a friend that LiquidVPN still works and then they cancel because they can’t get it working without asking for help,” Dave Cox from LiquidVPN tells us.

In terms of “help,” providers take a different approach as well. Some VPNs are taking a hands-off approach, but there are some that are willing to find solutions, often behind the scenes.

TorGuard has noticed that if users switch to a dedicated IP-address, which isn’t shared with others, Netflix works just fine. As a result, demand for these plans has increased quite a bit.

“We greatly expanded our Dedicated VPN IP pool and now offer Dedicated IP options in over 55 countries worldwide. This has proven to work flawlessly for users who wish to bypass VPN blockades with geo-restricted streaming services,” Torguard’s Ben Van Pelt says.

LiquidVPN informed us that bypassing the Netflix blocks on devices like phones, smart TVs, and streaming boxes requires technical know-how and is not for everyone. However, they are willing to offer assistance to people who want to access Netflix’s US catalog from a VPN.

Private Internet Access doesn’t offer any specific help but notes that they regularly add new IP-addresses. Although geo-unblocking is not a specific aim, they will do their best to ensure that users have access to an uncensored and unfiltered Internet.

“Private Internet Access will be introducing tens of thousands of fresh IP-addresses into rotation. Additionally, we are working on additional and aggressive new methods to ensure our clients receive a full, uncensored and net neutral Internet experience,” PIA’s Caleb Chen notes.

Then there are also providers who are not really interested in joining the blacklist whack-a-mole. Mullvad, for example, doesn’t support Netflix’s goals but doesn’t plan to actively counter them.

“Netflix and their suppliers are being silly and are stuck in a laughably outdated geographic distribution model. Geoblocking is not one of our main areas though, so if they want to go out of their way to drive away their own customers, we’ll let them,” Mullvad’s Daniel Berntsson says.

Lastly, there’s the Fight Club treatment ExpressVPN adheres to, avoiding public discussions on the topics wherever possible.

“To draw on the famous quote from the movie Fight Club, the first rule of Netflix is: do not talk about Netflix,” says David Lang, ExpressVPN’s Communications Manager.

While it’s impossible to draw any uniform conclusions, our general sense is that Netflix succeeded at making it very hard for casual VPN users to bypass geo-blockades.

Those who put some effort into it can probably find a way to access foreign Netflix catalogs, but even then it remains unclear how long these circumvention options will hold.

Disclaimer: PIA and ExpressVPN are TorrentFreak sponsors.

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