Now that Netflix is in 190 countries, the company really, really doesn’t want users to login using proxies or VPNs.
In a blog post published Thursday, the company said that users will only be able to use “proxies and unblockers” in the coming weeks to “access the service in the country where they currently are.”
In other words, if you want to access a Netflix library from another country using a proxy or VPN, it’s going to be a lot more difficult.
For years, users in countries where Netflix wasn’t available have used DNS tricks or VPNs to access the service anyway. Even after Netflix came to a region, unblocking services remained popular for users who might want access to content not available in their region.
As we’ve noted, one of the challenges Netflix faces as it expands is that content isn’t the same everywhere. Each region has its own licensing arms and licensing content — even for Netflix original programming — differs from country to country.
For instance, House of Cards, arguably Netflix’s flagship series, isn’t available on the service in India because the production company that actually owns the show, sold its rights to India’s Zee TV network.
Fighting the proxies now that legal deals are in place
Since so many people have used various proxy and unblock services to access Netflix in the past, it’s worth asking why Netflix suddenly cares now.
To its credit, the company basically lays it on the line in its blog post (emphasis ours).
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.
Over time, we anticipate being able to do so. For now, given the historic practice of licensing content by geographic territories, the TV shows and movies we offer differ, to varying degrees, by territory. In the meantime, we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location.
In other words, the company really doesn’t want to rock the boat in the countries it just negotiated deals with.
How will this work, technically?
How Netflix will actually ban proxies and VPNs will be interesting. I assume they’ll start by IP-banning some of the biggest unblocker services and known proxy and VPN companies, but there’s a fine line between determining who uses a VPN in the U.S. for privacy purposes (maybe you’re at a hotel or an Airbnb) to access Netflix in the U.S. and someone who uses a proxy to appear as if they are in the U.S. when they’re really in Canada.
Moreover, one has to wonder if this is really just a game of whack-a-mole waiting to happen for these VPN and unblocker services. Services built on the premise of accessing Netflix’s U.S. catalog from abroad likely won’t be willing to back off that easily.
We’ll have to wait for Netflix to actually roll out these changes in the coming weeks to see how much of an impact this has on people accessing content outside their regions.