What is VPN? And why is Netflix blocking them?
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What is VPN? And why is Netflix blocking them?

Netflix in the UK has just half as many titles as the service’s American version

A recent report in The Sun based on research it’s carried out suggests that “Netflix customers in the UK get half the choice of the US, yet pay the same”.


Netflix is bound by licensing rules that prohibit certain content from being shown in particular countries.

While Netfilx have said that the “reality of territorial licensing” is “a legacy of the traditional world of TV and film”, viewers around the world have long been using a method to get around such restrictions.

Welcome to the world of VPNs

As hackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their attempts to access people’s personal data, encryption and hiding your IP address can help prevent security breaches and protect your privacy.

And many people are turning to VPNs.

What is a VPN?

A VPN – virtual private network – is owned by either a group or individual and creates a secure connection over a public or private network. It can also be made accessible to other users.

When you connect to a VPN service, your computer exchanges trusted keys with a server. When both computers have been authenticated, communication between them is securely encrypted, and any data sent and received is protected from any would-be hackers.

How do VPNs work?

While VPNs are used to connect computers anonymously over the internet, hiding browsing and personal data in the process, they also allow people to stream content from countries where access is usually limited by cloaking their location – and providing a false one.

This is done through ‘geoblocking’, a process which prevents websites from collecting location data.

VPN services allow users around the world to connect to private networks on the internet. Some of these networks are free, many reportedly don’t offer enough bandwidth, while others require a monthly subscription.

What have VPNs got to do with Netflix?

All this explains why the iPlayer receives countless views from abroad, which the BBC has worked hard to block, with varying success.

And now Netflix is moving to stem a similar tide.

Many people outside the United States, for example, use VPNs to trick the OTT subscription service into believing that they’re based within the US and are therefore allowed to access the huge library of content available on the American version of Netflix.

Shows that UK subscribers are unable to watch (legitimately) include:

  • CSI Miami
  • the American version of The Office
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Supernatural

Netflix – and their 75 million subscribers

Worth around $42bn (£29bn) and entertaining 75 million subscribers, Netflix – the world’s leading video streaming service provider – now has a global presence.

But they’ve been under pressure from content providers who miss out on revenue due to would-be subscribers who access content via VPNs rather than Netflix itself.

What are the consequences for viewers?

Two main consequences have emerged in recent months:

    1. Netflix has begun to block the ‘unblocking’ businesses who enable viewers to watch content via VPNs
    2. Some Netflix customers are complaining that they’re not able to access the service and they’ve been warned that if they’re found to be accessing films and shows ‘illegally’ (or, at least, against the company’s Terms of Use – see below), their accounts may be terminated

Netflix Terms of Service


A bit of back story

Leaked documents from Sony Pictures’ series of data breaches in 2014 revealed that the company lobbied Netflix to tighten restrictions and do more to stop VPN users from countries like Britain and Australia accessing their services “illegally”, saying it was a form of “semi-sanctioned” piracy. Prior to its official launch in Australia, Netflix was estimated to have had around 200,000 Australian subscribers, all using VPNs.

Next move for Netflix?

Netflix has traditionally resisted pressure to implement geo-blocks on the grounds that it would inconvenience legitimate customers and the company’s European head of communications, Joris Evers, said his employer was “moving as quickly as we can” to provide the same content in every country it serves.

It’s believed that most rights holders, however, remain reluctant to relinquish the old model.


And while the more than 45,000 signatories of an online petition (at the time of writing) demand that Netflix change its policy, the company itself is placed in a precarious position: it needs to look after its subscribers but is also clearly dependent on studios and networks for much of the content it streams.

Definitely one to watch.