The Netflix VPN ban is making its return, and this time Netflix is implementing a double-base strategy to catch rogue users. Netflix has announced its plans to resume blocking users who access geo-restricted Netflix content via VPNs and proxies. This is the next phase of their long-term effort to implement the terms of licensing deals with creators and networks. It has led to some backlash from the Netflix community, with some users questioning the potential impact of the strategy. Let’s take a look at the current state of the unblocking wars and its potential impact on Netflix users worldwide.
Netflix to Crack Down on VPNs and Proxy Servers
Earlier this month, Netflix announced that it has recently expanded its services to countries like India, South Korea, Turkey, and Poland. By now, Netflix should have been able to achieve its goal of global access, except that it’s not able to reach China.
But this isn’t the most surprising portion of the announcement. In fact, the real shocker was the announcement that they are starting over with the Netflix VPN ban. That is, Netflix is resuming its efforts to block off all IP addresses that use virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers to access geo-restricted content.
Netflix users rely on these channels to access content from other countries or regions inaccessible to them. Based on the timeline that Netflix provided, the crackdown is already well underway.
Banning Residential Addresses
Previous Netflix VPN bans saw Netflix searching out and blocking commercial IP addresses linked to VPN services. But with this latest VPN ban, they have also started blocking residential IP addresses. Unlike commercial IP addresses, residential IP addresses are associated with internet providers.
Blocking residential IP addresses is no simple matter, and it always runs the risk of getting innocent IP owners in the crossfire. As it turns out, that is exactly what happened, and hundreds and thousands of neutral IP addresses have been blocked in the process. Netflix has somehow mistaken these regular internet users as rogue users, and they now serve as collateral damage.
The announcement of another crackdown did not go down well with both VPN providers and Netflix providers. Many users feel that they are being cheated out of their subscription. Many people have expressed their frustration on social media, with some accusing Netflix of caring more about the money than its users. Meanwhile, a handful of users outright unsubscribed from the service.
There are also questions about how effective this strategy really is. All evidence points to the fact that a VPN ban is not a foolproof solution. Netflix has imposed several bans before. Sure enough, they brought down entire VPN providers by blocking all of their IP addresses, but even then, some providers have managed their way around it.
There’s also the question of how this strategy will impact the Netflix user base. After all, the Netflix user base is the bread and butter of Netflix. If they want to keep their subscribers long-term, they have to be careful with how they handle issues such as this. They have to be as cordial and generous as possible, as this is what users expect. But as far as Netflix’s reputation is concerned, this latest move is far from cordial and generous.
Another unpleasant consequence of this Netflix VPN ban is that it brings up the issue of content inequality. That is, Netflix users have noticed a discrepancy in the volume of content based on the country that they live in. Take, for instance, the discrepancy between the volume of content between the US and Canada. The US has around 7,200 unique titles. Meanwhile, Canada has only 5,730 unique titles. Other countries have even less: Netherlands (3,655), Italy (3,526), UK (3,400), Poland (3,398), to cite a few.
In the face of these differences, you can hardly blame non-US subscribers for wanting to maximize their subscription. It’s not even Netflix that is directly to blame since they are only adhering to the demands of their content creators. All the while, Netflix is busy expanding its services to other countries.
But the question remains. When will Netflix make its content uniformly accessible across all countries? If you don’t want to stick around for the answer, there are always a handful of affordable and well-stocked entertainment platforms, such as Pluto TV and Apple TV.
How VPNs Bypass the Netflix VPN Ban
The way that VPNs bypass the server is relatively simple. To start, most VPN providers have data centers in different countries. Each data center is filled with servers that can generate commercial IP addresses. These IP addresses, when used, give off the appearance that the person using them lives in that country or region.
Whenever you request to access Netflix from another country, the system redirects you to the proxy server. There, your IP address will be replaced with an IP address from the proxy service. Then you can head back out to Netflix as usual, except this time you are using a different IP address. If Netflix fails to detect your IP address change, you can go on watching shows from that country.
Most of the time, VPNs will assign you IP addresses that Netflix hasn’t yet banned. This means that VPN companies are constantly trying to acquire new IP addresses and networks. For this cause, VPN services have lately resorted to leasing residential IP addresses. The residential IP addresses are assigned through the proxy server, just like commercial IP addresses. They are also eventually replaced as Netflix tracks down their source. It’s practically an endless cat-and-mouse chase.
But while the IP masking process may give the user anonymity, it doesn’t offer data encryption. In other words, while no one can trace your real IP address, your data will still be transmitted in raw, open format. The fact that your data remains visible over the network can leave it vulnerable to Netflix’s algorithms, and at the same time, it puts your privacy at risk.
How Netflix Identifies VPN and Proxies
Netflix has a handful of neat methods to check whether users are using VPNs to access their service. Here are some of the more interesting and publicly known methods that they use:
IP Address Checks
The most straightforward strategy that Netflix uses is to check whether the IP address that you are using is registered with a VPN. This method operates on the knowledge that most VPN services can only offer a limited number of IP addresses at a time. In other words, the IP address that you receive will likely have a previous user/s. Suppose Netflix sees that you are using an IP address that has been marked under a particular VPN; Netflix will then block that address automatically.
DNS Server Location Mismatch
The second way that Netflix detects VPN use is by checking for mismatches between your IP address and the IP address indicated on your DNS (Domain Name Server) settings. Netflix has the means to override the DNS setup in select devices. The override exposes your real ISP server. If the Netflix system logs a mismatch between these two data points, it will automatically block your connection. The devices most vulnerable to DNS exposures are Android and IOS devices.
Netflix can also rely on the location of your IP address or your GPS. Every time you log into the internet, your device registers a location, which we know to be your IP address. Netflix has its own algorithms that can detect sudden changes to IP addresses. Let’s say your IP address moved from London to New York within a few minutes, for example. If the system detects this change, it will automatically block your IP address.
Why Netflix Wants a VPN Ban
Netflix produces original content, but it also gets content from third-party providers. Most of the content they get from other sources is subject to licensing and copyright agreements. These agreements set limits for when and where content can become accessible. They also bar Netflix from making the content accessible in other locations or countries not part of the deal.
There are claims that geo-restricted access leads to revenue losses. But as far as we can see, the potential loss in profit may be more on the part of content creators than Netflix. As far as we’re concerned, Netflix seems to be doing exceptionally well despite the issue of people bypassing their geofences. In fact, they’ve managed to grow their revenues by approximately 20 percent per year since 2010.
These facts highlight the notion that VPN access doesn’t impact Netflix revenues, yet they want to stop it. In addition, most people who access geo-restricted content via VPNs have Netflix subscriptions to begin with. Most VPNs will not even allow users to access their geofencing bypass without an existing Netflix account.
On the other hand, the rampant access to geo-restricted content may affect content creators and networks. People who live in areas that are not licensed to access content will gain access. In turn, they will not be inclined to purchase that same content from other sources, thus decreasing revenues for the content creators. The real threat is for the content creators and not Netflix.
Is It Illegal to Access Geo-Restricted Content?
In legal terms, it is not. Many people mistake geo-restricted access for piracy, but the two are different. As a matter of fact, most people who access geo-restricted content have a subscription to Netflix. It’s just that they are unable to access the full catalog and have found a workaround to gaining access via VPN. In other words, they are still legitimate customers of the service. It’s unlike torrenting copyrighted material, which you absolutely did not pay for. The other thing that’s not illegal is downloading content from Netflix.
On the other hand, you are still technically in violation of Netflix’s internal policy; its terms of service, to be more specific. The terms of service stipulate that you agree to access only the available content within your country or region. Not many people actually read the terms of service before signing it, but it’s really the most important part.
In fact, Netflix can cancel your subscription if it proves that you are using a VPN to access geo-restricted content. However, we haven’t heard of any case where Netflix actually canceled a subscription because of VPN use. Canceling a subscription is also as far as Netflix can go. It cannot hold individual subscribers criminally or civilly liable for violating the terms of service. Because, again, the violation is only against Netflix policies and not the law.
VPNs Taking the Backseat
In the past, when Netflix implemented a similar VPN ban, VPN companies would fight back. They would constantly look out for and purchase new IP addresses and networks, which they would share with users. While some VPN companies fell during the process, most were able to keep up. But now, it seems that ordinary tactics such as these will not be enough.
The fact that Netflix has begun to block residential IP addresses poses a large threat to VPNs. This is an unexpected move and one that has thrown VPNs completely off-guard. While there are not many VPNs that offer residential IP addresses in the first place, the few that do are already bracing for impact. Netflix representatives have themselves admitted that it’s easier to track smaller VPN services since they only have about ten to twenty active verses. On the other hand, well-connected and large-scale VPNs are harder to track since they have many servers spread across various locations around the globe. In other words, Netflix users actually have a better chance at staying undetected with larger-scale VPNs like NordVPN and Express VPN.
Despite the collective efforts of VPNs to evade detection, it really looks like Netflix is going to win this time. Not only do they have a lot of resources to track VPN-provided IP addresses, but they also have the support of their content creators, governments, and fellow entertainment services. On top of that, they have an even greater incentive to protect their services now since they are piling up on original, self-produced TV shows and movies. At this point in the game, it’s clear which side has the upper hand.
Final Thoughts on the Netflix VPN Ban to Block Access to Geo-Restricted Content
The Netflix VPN ban turns out to be an even bigger deal than we had anticipated. It’s bound to affect hundreds of thousands of users, especially those whom Netflix has considered as “rogue users.” There will be a handful of people affected as collateral damage, and it will be a hard fight overall for both Netflix and the VPNs.
But the single hope that many users have for this unblocking war is for Netflix to finally address content inequality. It’s really less about people violating rules and bypassing geofences and more about people demanding equal access to the same volume and quality of content.
As it turns out, the real conflict is not between Netflix and VPNs but between Netflix and its users from around the globe. But for now, the unblocking wars must rage on.