Netflix Throws Down The Gauntlet To VPN and Proxy Servers

Netflix announced earlier this week that any subscribers using a virtual private network (VPN), proxy, or “unblocker” service to access a version of Netflix that is not the one based in their country of location  will be bounced over to their local service in the next few weeks.

The move comes just after Netflix announced it was launching service in 130 new countries—a response to the massive international demand for the service fulfilled, so far, through the very services Netflix is now seeking to shut down. 

It’s a decision that will be felt keenly by those who wish to watch television shows and films outside of their region. Netflix may be an international brand, now, but most films and TV shows remain subject to regional licensing. That means, for example, that people living in the UK will not be able to watch The Walking Dead and people in Australia cannot watch How To Get Away With Murder

Netflix’s terms of service haven’t changed. The company has long explicitly forbidden the use of mechanisms to bypass its software that detects a user’s location, but it’s never been strongly enforced up until now. Netflix admits: 

If all of our content were globally available, there wouldn’t be a reason for members to use proxies or “unblockers” to fool our systems into thinking they’re in a different country than they’re actually in. 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.

Expatriatess in particular, who are a cohort that regularly use VPNs for watching Netflix. I am an expat living in Germany where almost all international films and television are dubbed auf Deutsch. While I am happy to watch American films with German dubbing, despite my less-than-stellar language skills,  it is nice to have the opportunity to watch the original version. (Musicals are particularly bizarre when dubbed.) 

My friends think the same, even the German ones. One friend claimed that there are a small number of German actors who do all the voice overs so a lot of characters across the media sound the same. A Reddit user claimed that the same voice actor subs in for both Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad and Malcolm from Malcolm In The Middle

I contacted a VPN provider for comment, who said his company “preferred to monitor the debate from the sideline” and asked not to be named.

Will the VPN services be able to bypass Netflix’s new security maneuvers? Obviously they cannot encourage their subscribers to engage in what could be considered technically illegal acts. But if it turns out Netflix is targeting specific providers, then something like building your own Raspberry Pi VPN server could come in handy, provided you don’t mind shelling out a little money for hardware and spending some time coding. It will be far harder for Netflix to deal with a distributed army of VPNs than to crack down on specific, easily singled-out companies.

At least Netflix recognizes that people want to watch the same media all over. I suspect this move is more meant to appease the Hollywood studios that provide it with movies and shows. In the meantime, expect a cat-and-mouse game with VPNs.

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