Most of the big media have problems with VPNs, partly because they have no reliable way of detecting their use. A Virtual private network is an encrypted tunnel commonly used to provide a level of security that’s simply not available normally on the internet. It is often used as a method of accessing secure corporate networks using the internet as a transport, meaning that people don’t need the expense of dedicated lines like ISDN lines every where they go.
So what’s the problem with these VPN connections, why do the big online media firms like Netflix, Hulu and the BBC dislike them so much?
Well it’s basically related to profit maximization and copyright protection. For some unknown reason, most of the world’s big film and TV companies have been using the same sort of license agreements for decades. Except they don’t work anymore, country barriers don’t work so well online, and they’re very difficult to enforce. Simply put, trying to license a film for viewing only in the USA isn’t going to work, yet this is exactly what is happening. Firms like Netflix are forced to negotiate licenses individually on a per country basis which is why every version of Netflix is completely different depending on which country you are in.
Of course what has happened is that some of these versions of Netflix are much, much better than others despite a fairly uniform cost. When you connect to Netflix it looks up your IP address and determines which country you are in and then displays you that version. It’s annoying especially for the traveller, who may settle down in some foreign hotel and find that TV series he’s been watching for 6 weeks is suddenly not available. However this is where the Netflix VPN comes in, as well as being undetectable they also can be used to modify your location through your IP address. The location of the VPN server will determine which version of Netflix or whether you can watch the BBC iPlayer for example, so if you have access to a few VPN services spread across the world then you can basically choose between any version of Netflix you like.
But How Do the Netflix VPN Blocks Work?
As yet there’s no perfect way of detecting when a VPN connection is using a particular web site, although with enough resources you can ‘work out’ most of the VPNs. What happens is that the companies search online and identify the companies offering services to bypass their blocks and try to identify IP ranges used by them. It’s not hard – simply look at the adverts for various VPN services and you’ll soon find some of the bigger ones. The other simple option is to look at specific IP addresses which have multiple connections on them – if you have five hundred people streaming to a single IP address then it’s likely that it represents a proxy or VPN server. These IP addresses are then individually blocked in a sort of internet black list preventing them access the sites.
This is of course very resource intensive and associated with a host of other problems. Sometimes the IP addresses change, the VPN services will routinely swap them out – sometimes they are from people connecting through company proxies or educational networks. It means that some services will work especially the slightly smaller, low key security based ones. Which means that you can still bypass these blocks if you choose carefully the best VPN for Netflix.
Who knows how this will go on? The solution of course is to arrange global licensing deals and stop offering different levels of services depending on location. It’s not surprising people find ways to work around the systems. After all you can pay your expensive UK license fee and get blocked from watching the BBC online simply because you happen to be abroad for a while. Also anyone who’s seen how much better the US version of Netflix is compared to some other countries will be amazed at the difference.
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