When consumers adopt a specific technology en masse, it’s because that technology makes life convenient. A fairly recent example of mass-adoption was when computers and cellphones combined to become one pocket-sized Internet-ready device.
What’s more convenient than having a computer in your pocket that allows you to talk to friends, play games, and look up information on a whim?
Smartphone technology is so common that it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t own a smartphone today. In fact, 95 percent of young teens have access to a smartphone, and 45 percent are almost constantly using their smartphone to access the Internet.
Just as smartphones made their way into nearly everyone’s pocket, Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology is next. VPN technology has been a staple in tech for decades, but never had a reason to go mainstream until now.
That reason? A VPN has the power to unlock unrestricted access to Netflix.
What’s Happening With Netflix?
Before diving into the details of what a VPN does and how it helps Netflix users, let’s look at why Netflix users are upset: geoblocking. Geoblocking is the act of restricting internet content to users from specific geographic locations, determined by their IP address.
For example, when a U.S. resident takes a vacation abroad and tries to access the Netflix website, they’re redirected to the Netflix website for the country they’re currently in.
They aren’t allowed to log into their paid account and finish watching the last season of their favorite TV show. For those who aren’t expecting this roadblock, it’s a huge source of frustration.
Why Can’t People Access Their Netflix Accounts if They're Paid For?
Thanks to copyright laws, Netflix had to create nearly 200 different Netflix services – each country and territory is required to have its own service to maintain compliance. The titles a user can access depends on their location, but U.S. residents have the most access.
For instance, U.S. customers have access to over 4,500 movies and 100 percent of the U.S. TV library. Customers in Spain have access to just over 1,000 movies and 20.4 percent of the U.S. TV library.
When a user accesses the Netflix website through the main URL, they’re redirected to their country or territory’s Netflix website, which provides them with location-specific titles. To bypass this geoblocking, Netflix users have learned to use a private VPN. A VPN cloaks a user’s IP address with an IP from a server located elsewhere.
A VPN is different from a proxy. Although both a proxy and VPN hide a user’s true IP address, only a VPN encrypts traffic between a user’s computer and the VPN’s servers. Proxy connections are application-based, not computer-wide like a VPN.
A proxy is something people use when they’re engaging in low-stake activities like accessing geo-restricted YouTube content. A VPN is what people use when they want to securely maintain privacy.
In 2016, Netflix launched a complex VPN detection system that detected low-level VPNs. With this detection system in place, it’s imperative for users to use a high-quality, reputable VPN if they’re trying to access Netflix. A free VPN might be good enough for maintaining privacy while surfing the web, but it’s only a matter of time before those users start getting proxy errors from Netflix.
Using a VPN to access geoblocked Netflix content is easy. All that’s required is for the user to select a preferred geographic location from a list, and Netflix will think they’re located in that area and grant access to that location’s version of Netflix. A user wanting to access their U.S. account would select a U.S. based server from the list.
Netflix is being excluded from geoblocking bans
Geoblocking bans are going into effect, but Netflix and other streaming services are being excluded. For instance, in 2018, the European Parliament banned geoblocking to expand consumer access to goods and services, but excluded digital copyrighted content like streaming music and video services.
This exclusion means European Union (EU) residents with a Netflix account still can’t stream movies when they travel outside of the EU.
This new ruling won’t be reassessed until 2020.
Netflix is putting a VPN in everyone’s pocket
Most people today use their smartphones and mobile devices for everything, including streaming Netflix movies. It’s only a matter of time before every mobile user has a VPN to unlock access to the 5,000 plus Netflix titles available worldwide. In this way, geoblocking is actually encouraging people to take up secure internet practices, even if it’s for a different reason.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher. A graduate of Iowa State University, he's now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant.Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, and Forbes.com, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter (@LarryAlton3), at LinkedIn.com/in/larryalton, and on his website, LarryAlton.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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