Last month Netflix announced that it would increase its efforts to block customers who circumvent geo-blockades.
As a result it has become harder to use VPN services and proxies to access Netflix content from other countries, something various movie studios have repeatedly called for.
With the application of commercial blacklist data, Netflix already blocks IP-addresses that are linked to such services, something which also affects well-intentioned customers who merely use a VPN to protect their privacy.
Instead of providing access to the latest video entertainment, Netflix then serves the following error message to these blocked users.
In recent weeks TorrentFreak has kept a close eye on the expanding blockade and its aftermath. We’ve learned that servers belonging to many popular commercial VPN services have been added to the blocklist, including ExpressVPN, Mullvad, Private Internet Access and StrongVPN.
While the blocks are being rolled out in phases, it’s already clear that some VPN users can’t access Netflix, even if the VPN server is located in the same country as they are. This means that Americans can no longer use a U.S. VPN server to protect their privacy.
Ironically, Netflix is even restricting access to its own original series, despite being the primary rightsholder.
This approach is meeting fierce resistance from many sides. To coordinate the protest Digital rights organization OpenMedia has started an OpenMedia petition urging Netflix to rethink its approach, which has already been signed by more than 33,000 people.
“Privacy is a huge priority for us as a digital rights organization, and that VPNs are probably the simplest, most user-friendly way for everyday Internet users to safeguard their online activities,” OpenMedia spokesperson David Christopher informs TorrentFreak.
“Given that a huge percentage of the population uses Netflix, if they were all forced to stop using VPNs, that would represent a major setback for privacy,” he adds.
OpenMedia itself has been affected by the new measures as well, as some of their staff members can no longer watch Netflix without having to turn off their VPN.
The group is concerned that Internet users are being forced to give up their privacy when they are not even trying to circumvent any geo-blockades. A better way would be to restrict content based on people’s credit card addresses, which doesn’t require any VPN blocking.
“We’re cooking up plans to take this message directly to Netflix and hope that if enough people speak up, Netflix will listen to their customers and find a better way,” Christopher says.
Meanwhile, the complaints keep pouring in on social media. There are even reports from users who are blocked without even using a VPN. In addition, several people claim to have ended their Netflix subscriptions due to the restrictive policies, and some hint at going back to their old pirate ways.
Despite the public outrage, Netflix said that it’s not worried about a subscriber exodus. “I don’t think we will see any impact,” CEO Reed Hastings said in a shareholders’ interview last month.
In the long-term the company hopes to make the entire geo-blocking discussion obsolete by offering movies and TV-shows worldwide. But given Hollywood’s reluctance to adapt, it may take a few years before this will be realized.