Why Netflix is Blocking VPNs and What Users are Doing About It

Adam Luehrs In the News

For the many viewers who watch Netflix using a virtual private network (VPN), trying to access the service had brought nothing but frustration since January when the company announced it was cracking down on people who use VPNs to stream content outside their regions. The block has brought lots of backlash from users around the world who aren’t happy with the limited content offered in their areas.

Why the Ban?

Using any method to access regional shows from another location has always been against the Netflix terms of service, but new pressure from content providers drove the service to become more aggressive with reinforcing the rule. Netflix has to pay to license any content that isn’t original programming, and much of this content is only available in certain countries. Subscription payments don’t cover licensing for users in other areas attempting to view the content using a VPN to disguise their locations.

Netflix is working with studios to get global licensing for the movies and TV shows that it offers, but thus far the process hasn’t kept up with the growing demand for an extensive catalog of streaming media.

The Privacy Issue

The ban doesn’t take into account the subset of users who rely on VPNs to protect their data while using Wi-Fi connections. These users pay for local Netflix access and use it without violating the terms of service. However, many have found that they can no longer rely on their VPNs to stream Netflix, and this restriction has become a cause for concern.

David Christopher, the communications manager of the digital rights group Open Media, says that “there have to be better ways” for Netflix to “enforce, as we see it, content restriction” because “many people rely on VPNs as a privacy tool.”

Data sent and received over VPNs is encrypted to minimize the risk of hacking, spying, and other malicious activities. Users legitimately accessing Netflix are upset at being forced to abandon their virtual shields to stream content.

VPN Users Respond

Some VPNs, including LiquidVPN, have found ways to work around the ban and continue to provide their customers with Netflix access. In a recent open letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, 45,000 petitioners stated that they “believe that there are better ways for you to respect creators, and enforce your geographic restrictions and contractual obligations than by outright blocking your privacy conscious customers from using your service.”

Those using VPNs to circumnavigate local restrictions are also making their voices heard, citing the vast differences in the Netflix catalog from country to country. Some have pointed out that, although Netflix states that all of their original shows are global, even some of these have been restricted by the ban. Others who frequently travel for business reasons find it unfair that they can’t use their Netflix subscriptions to access a full local catalog when they’re in another region.

A Push Toward Piracy?

Not all users are responding ethically to the Netflix ban. In a poll conducted by Secure Thoughts, 84 percent of a group of 1,000 VPN users admitted that they would probably pirate more content now that they can no longer access media outside of their regions. Many see local cable television as too expensive for the limited amount of content that it offers, and there may be few or no other alternatives for those in countries where the media is actively restricted.

With the easy availability of just about any content from torrent sites, it’s possible that instances of piracy will increase as people migrate away from Netflix. However, many VPN users would simply like to see a solution that allows them to access the content that they want to see without going against licensing laws or breaking the Netflix terms of service.

Until Netflix responds to the petition or Hollywood producers develop licensing policies that support the open, global nature of modern content consumption, users are likely to continue looking for ways to get around the ban. Global distribution of content is seen as the ultimate solution, but only time will tell if both producers and providers will get on board.