Netflix blocks VPN proxies to its out-of-region content

Forget those earlier indications by Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) that it doesn't mind VPN masking too much. The SVOD provider said it is planning to block proxy access to content that isn't available in the countries where it has launched so far.

Netflix launched in 130 additional countries on Jan. 7, bringing its total international presence to 190 countries.

However, content offerings differ between countries and even some of its own original content, like House of Cards, isn't available in all of the regions in which it offers service.

Netflix has downplayed concerns about VPN masking in the past. Ahead of its launch in Australia, for example, the company did not take steps to stop Aussies from streaming its U.S. content via proxy, and the rumor then was that such behavior provided a way to build hype around its official launch in the country.

However, as the provider pushes forward with an initiative to secure global licensing rights for all of the content on its service, it is taking VPN masking and proxy access much more seriously.

"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," said David Fullagar, VP of content delivery at Netflix, in a company blog post.

Stopping its content (particularly U.S. content) from being streamed outside its licensed region has been on the mind of CEO Reed Hastings for some time now. "The basic solution is for Netflix to get global and have its content be the same all around the world so there's no incentive" to use VPN masking, Hastings told Gizmodo Australia last March.

Exactly how Netflix will manage to block all proxies isn't clear. Fullagar said in his post that Netflix will "employ the same or similar measures other firms do." However, blocking a VPN requires a blanket ban of a specific IP address. The drawbacks of that are that others who may be legitimately streaming their country's version of Netflix through a VPN for security purposes would no longer be able to access the service; and the culprits employing VPN masking could simply shift to a different IP address.

Hulu stirred up a minor firestorm in April 2014 when it blocked several proxy IP addresses in the U.S. to keep users in Australia and other countries from accessing the North American version of its streaming service. The move also reportedly blocked some legitimate U.S. users from accessing its service.

But complaints by users may not be enough to sway Netflix from taking steps to protect its own interests -- it's in the provider's best interest to get consumers to demand that content owners knuckle under and sign global licensing agreements.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this Netflix blog post

Related articles:
Netflix's Aussie strategy: Let 'em VPN, at least up until launch
Hulu cracks down on VPN masking to block access by non-U.S. viewers
Netflix's master plan is global content licensing
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