Netflix Pretends It Will Crackdown On VPNs Just Days After Admitting It's Futile To Do So

from the international-whac-a-mole dept

For a few years now, broadcasters have whined endlessly about the use of VPNs to access Netflix in markets where the streaming service had yet to launch. You’ll recall that Australian broadcasters in particular loved to throw hissy fits over the use of VPN technology, accusing customers (paying for both Netflix and a VPN) of being “pirates” for refusing to adhere to regional viewing restrictions. Of course, ignored amidst all this whining (and the futile attempts to ban VPNs) was the fact that these users wouldn’t be going to these lengths — if they liked the existing services being made available to them.

Last week, Netflix surprised everybody by announcing the service was now available in 130 additional countries, bringing the grand total of available countries to 190. And while this will certainly force many broadcasters to stop whining about VPNs and start competing, the fact remains that thanks to geographical licensing restrictions, the content being made available to Netflix customers in Canada will look dramatically different to the catalog available to users in Germany. As such, there’s been renewed interest in the use of VPNs to engage in what’s effectively global Netflix content tourism.

Netflix has made a few token gestures over the last year to appease broadcasters, such as fleeting efforts to thwart VPNs and geo-restriction avoidance tools. Those efforts were already in play in the 60 countries Netflix operated in before this recent expansion. But speaking at CES, Netflix exec Neil Hunt basically admitted that there’s not really all that much Netflix can do to stop VPN use, unless they want to waste calories on an international game of Whac-A-Mole:

“We do apply industry standard technologies to limit the use of proxies,? (Netflix chief product officer Neil) Hunt says. ?Since the goal of the proxy guys is to hide the source it?s not obvious how to make that work well. It?s likely to always be a cat-and-mouse game. [We] continue to rely on blacklists of VPN exit points maintained by companies that make it their job. Once [VPN providers] are on the blacklist, it?s trivial for them to move to a new IP address and evade.”

Clearly Netflix got some blowback for admitting the futility of VPN bans, however, as the company has since posted a new blog post full of non-statements that try to walk back Hunt’s comments a little bit:

“Some members use proxies or ?unblockers? to access titles available outside their territory. To address this, we employ the same or similar measures other firms do. This technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it. That means in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are. We are confident this change won?t impact members not using proxies.”

Now most of the media read this statement to mean Netflix is implementing some severe new assault on VPNs, but if you read the statement carefully all Netflix is saying is it’s going to continue using the same tools they’ve always used. The same tools one of their key executives just got done publicly admitting don’t actually work. It’s simply not possible to really ban VPN use, but Netflix wants to make partners in its 190 service countries feel comfortable while it slowly but surely works toward eliminating geo-restrictive licensing entirely. Also said by Hunt at CES:

“Our ambition is to do global licensing and global originals, so that over maybe the next five, 10, 20 years, it?ll become more and more similar until it?s not different”…”We don?t buy only for Canada; we?re looking ? for all territories; buying a singular territory is not very interesting any more.”…?When we have global rights, there?s a significant reduction in piracy pressure on that content. If a major title goes out in the U.S. but not in Europe, it?s definitely pirated in Europe, much more than it is if it?s released simultaneously,? Mr. Hunt says.

More consistent licensing reduces piracy, but it also forces legacy companies to compete and upsets the status quo by weakening local broadcaster power, so expect 2016 to be jam-packed with oodles more hand-wringing over VPN and proxy use by companies terrified of change.

As an aside, if you were curious just how fractured Netflix content availability is by country (often because content rights are sold before Netflix can even bid), Finder this week released a pretty amazing breakdown of what’s available by country, an accompanying map highlighting global availability, and a breakdown of what percentage of the U.S. catalog is available in each country.

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Companies: netflix

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Comments on “Netflix Pretends It Will Crackdown On VPNs Just Days After Admitting It's Futile To Do So”

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PaulT (profile) says:

To be honest, I expected them to have to pay some lip services to this once they were finally able to service the majority of the planet. They needed to openly turn a blind eye when there were many uses for their customers that could not be provided any other way (e.g. people travelling to places where Netflix were not yet allowed to service them).

Now that the major reason is going to be switching to a region with better content than the home country of the account holder, they probably have less desire to be publicly in favour of/blind to region switching. If they’re using the same tools as they have been, that’s fine as nobody I know has ever come across a problem. Both Netflix and the studios are going to face problems if Netflix do have to “properly” block VPN usage.

The question now is – if such a crackdown does take place, are people going to whine about Netflix as if they have final say over what gets licensed in each region? Or, since there’s no such restrictions on their original content, are the public going to place the blame with the studios where it belongs and demand they drag their distribution models to address the market realities of the 21st century?

“And while this will certainly force many broadcasters to stop whining about VPNs and start competing”

I hope you’re right Karl, I really do. Call me very sceptical at this point.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“he question now is – if such a crackdown does take place, are people going to whine about Netflix as if they have final say over what gets licensed in each region? Or, since there’s no such restrictions on their original content, are the public going to place the blame with the studios where it belongs and demand they drag their distribution models to address the market realities of the 21st century?”

Neither. They are going to cancel the service and use their VPN to pirate what they want.

In a reasonable persons mind, and considering were talking about infinite goods; Something that in and of itself is legal, and is unavailable to obtain in that area, cannot be stolen. In other words; How can someone show a monetary loss, if the thing that’s causing the loss isn’t available to purchase legally?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“In a reasonable persons mind”

Erm, we are talking about the legacy distribution industry…

“if the thing that’s causing the loss isn’t available to purchase legally?”

Herein lies the issue. The content often is available to purchase, they just restrict its availability to rent through streaming services. It doesn’t matter that someone is unlikely to pay $15 for a digital purchase when their $10/month streaming service doesn’t carry it, but remember these are not reasonable minds…

Cynyr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I can’t pay any amount of money to get say, the BBC’s UK streaming offering here in MN, USA. Same goes for BBC or SKY Formula 1 coverage. Yes, I can get the NBCSN/fox coverage here, but it’s not uninterrupted, and doesn’t have the same in depth commentary, so it’s a different product as far as I’m concerned.

In general I’d say that most of what I’d like to buy from the UK simply isn’t for sale here in the USA.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I did say “often”, not “always”, there will always be exceptions. But, for the most part, any TV/movie available on Netflix will be available for purchase elsewhere – iPlayer is a different animal altogether.

Also, I was referring to movies & pre-recorded TV programs (such as those available on Netflix). Live sports streaming is a totally different market and so irrelevant to the point I was making.

AJ says:

Who the fuck do they think they are telling me I have to do without because legacy broadcasters don’t want to compete with a better service in my market? I can easily stream something that’s not available in my area by using a VPN paying for both the media, and the method to connect to the media, yet I’m still a pirate? Well fuck them… Garrr.. where’s me rum??!!

Anon says:

Part of the Problem..

At least in Canada, the major media companies that control cable have figured out they need to get into the streaming game. To this end, they have created competitors to Netflix Canada. Obviously, another part of the game (as big business plays it) is to use laws and the government to hammer down competitors. About a year ago, a parliamentary committee tried to demand Netflix hand over data about its customers. Since there was no legal basis for this – other than, the 1% in Canada are cozy with politicians, Netflix told them to take a hike. Shomi and Crave have been trying to exclusively license as much content in Canada as possible, so that they can implement Phase B… Use the copyright hammer to demand Netflix stop allowing Canadians to access “their” Canadian-licensed content by bypassing the border and viewing to from the USA.

As a pair of non-technical commentators said on the radio recently –

“How many different online TV services are you going to sign up for at $10 a month?”


As an example, we started binge-watching Homeland a while ago. Season 1 was available in Canada. For Season 2, I had to VPN to the USA. For season 3, I VPN’ed to the UK. For Season 4, download. For Season 5 just now, download again. Similar situation for other shows, such as Weeds. Whereas, Breaking Bad or House of Cards was fully available in Canada. Until the studios get their licensing act into the 20th century at the very least, that’s likely the general experience.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Part of the Problem..

“”How many different online TV services are you going to sign up for at $10 a month?”


People’s needs are different, but there’s room for multiple providers – but only if the need to do so is a natural competition and not an artificial restriction. For example, it’s “natural” that HBO have a streaming app for its own produced content that a person may need to subscribe to separately. Although customers may prefer everything in Netflix, there’s an obvious reason why HBO are running their own platform. However, it’s not “natural” that a licencing change has caused a bunch of content that was available on Netflix to now only be available on Hulu. A customer should not have to switch back and forth between services to access content, especially if they do only wish to keep one running.

To give myself as an example, I currently subscribe to 4 streaming services:

Netflix (for most TV I watch, and a lot of movies)
Hulu (mainly for the Criterion collection as well as some TV I can’t see anywhere else)
MUBI (inexpensive access to a rolling eclectic 30 day mix of art and independent cinema)
Exploitation.TV (cult & obscure cinema – currently subscribed “free” as I funded it during the Indiegogo campaign, but I may continue once I have to start paying monthly)

Now, I don’t mind paying for all 4 at the moment, because they are natural competitors, each with a different selling point and price point. If MUBI decided to ramp its price up too much, or Hulu ditched Criterion, they wouldn’t keep me as a subscriber for long. If I felt that, say, Netflix would host the exploitation stuff but they were being blocked by some monopolistic licencing, I’d ditch the last service. But, I can’t imagine they would, so I’m happy to pay to access otherwise unseen material.

It’s also worth noting that the first 2 services I was only able to access through VPN before Netflix launched locally for me a few months back. These legal services are making money from people like me, who may have few real local alternatives.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Part of the Problem..

Hmmm, why can’t HBO let Netflix offer the content too for a sane price per subscriber? Netflix could offer a few extra a la carte ‘channels’ or tiers where the user could pay to get the content without leaving the service. Sure HBO could still offer their own service, I see no problem in it and I also see value. And since we are at that, why can’t Netflix offer whatever the others have? Because the current licensing schemes and copyright laws are insane. We need a central, standard licensing scheme where anybody can dip their toes and pay standard, non discriminatory prices.

Then I’d agree with you entirely that some services would be more useful than Netflix for some stuff, maybe have more complete catalogs of a determined stile/niche or a presentation that caters to that specific audience.

NO content has ANY justification not to be available wherever. The service may have justifications to ditch one type and focus on others but the licensing shouldn’t be determining that. Or geo restricting anything while we are at it.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Part of the Problem..

Hmmm, why can’t HBO let Netflix offer the content too for a sane price per subscriber?

I’m sure HBO has decided they’re better off with exclusivity. Either that or their contracts with cable companies prohibit it.

We need a central, standard licensing scheme where anybody can dip their toes and pay standard, non discriminatory prices.

Compulsory licenses for streaming movies? Nice idea, but I don’t see that happening.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Part of the Problem..

I actually have had Hulu Plus, Netflix and Amazon Prime (for the streaming). I had to watch the Good Wife on Netflix (season 1 and one episode of season 2 and then it disappeared), Hulu Plus (seasons 2-4) and Amazon (season 5) before catching up with the live show on TV.

No big deal since I happened to have all three at the time, but finding a single show can be very difficult with all the selling, pulling and re-selling.

Anon says:


My wife used to watch her favorite soap opera on PVR. If there was a glitch in the recording, or some presidential or breaking news interruption, she could go to the ABC website and watch recent episodes there. Recently a lot of this changed, no doubt at the instigation of traditional TV and cable companies – to watch, you had to provide your US cable company login credentials. It’s not just Netflix that’s being screwed by license issues.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Maybe because the content owners now try to gouge Netflix and therefore only so much content can be available at any one time due to licensing cost. So maybe Netflix has to constantly rotate what content is available within their ability to pay.

Remember back in the old days when content owners didn’t think Netflix could ever succeed, and so they licensed Netflix lots of great content at reasonable prices.

Once they saw it succeeded wildly, they realized they needed to price gouge. It’s not enough merely to make money. We need to really stick it to consumers.

Such is the thinking of Big Idiocy. Er, I mean Big Content.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dear idiots at Netflix

You should keep in mind that in the relatively near future we will be deploying VPN technology that leverages the connections of Netflix subscribers themselves. That is, customer A will proxy for customer B, who will proxy for customer C.

There is nothing you can do about this without blocking the IP addresses of your own customers. Give it up. We win. You lose.

uRspqF7L (profile) says:

Re: Dear idiots at Netflix

well, they can go out of business, as you and so many on this site want them to do. how dare they have a business model! then the magical mega-legislation that forces content providers to keep making stuff for free will kick in & you’ll still get your Daredevil season 2 or whatever.

or maybe you’ll be content with only watching stuff from the past, which i have to admit there is quite a lot of at this point.

Anonymous Coward says:

…access the service in the country where they currently are.

Where they currently are, or where their account is registered/paid? IOW: if they’re just using proxy & VPN blacklists, can I access the service if I’m going thru a VPN server located in the same country I’m in?

After all, VPNs aren’t just for geo-faking to get at blocked content. I don’t necessarily want to turn mine off just to watch a TV show.

David (profile) says:

It is Time for the Entertainment Industry to wake up

Actually, it is WAY PAST time for the Entertainment Industry to wake up to the fact that we are now in a global economy, and that the old rules of regional licensing don’t work any more.

While it still might work for physical/scarce goods, it does not for digital. When will they learn that these tactics make them appear to be whiny babies, who cry because you can’t hand them the moon.

DannyB (profile) says:

How dare Netflix not accomplish the impossible!

Memo from the MPAA members to Netflix: HOW DARE you not do the impossible and stop all piracy! How dare you fail to completely stop ALL viewing from non permitted regions. And worst of all, how dare you truthfully and publicly state the obvious impossibility of doing so. This shatters the illusion Hollywood tries to manufacture in people’s minds that that computer security is absolute — except when a TV hacker can in a few keystrokes break into any system anywhere.

And obviously, Google must share the blame for viewers being able to use VPNs to access Netflix. Because . . . um, because they are Google, that’s why.

Anonymous Coward says:

I thought the new press release about trying to block VPN is to gather more support from the Chinese government. China wants to limit what is shown and watched and if people can bypass Netflix’s restrictions, then Netflix will never be granted a license to open up in their country. Netflix needs to send a message saying we are doing our best to block VPN, even if it turns out to be an “impossible” task.

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

MPAA, Movies/production studios are total retards

The reason I say this is that they fail to see WHY Netflix is so popular as opposed to their own services, sure $60-$200/month for a limited selection is a big part, but it’s that limited selection IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY that is also at least an equal part.

An example (as an American) is if I want to watch some Icelandic comedy, say Næturvaktin, I HAVE to pirate or stream it from a non-official source as it is STILL in production, 9 YEARS after it was first made. I can only guess that it’s worse in other “non-rich countries” (read as: Not America)

Whisper says:


I’m not entirely sure what’s up with the idiots condoning this, people have a right to watch whatever content they like and the sad fact for Netflux us, that there’s no fool proof way to enforce the lies their sprouting anyway

Barely would effect me anyway since I’m part of some amazingly good quality torrent sites that stream almost any movie or show you could want and there completely free too.

If by chance this change did mess up Netflux for me I’d just unsub, I can find their content and more on other sites.

uRspqF7L (profile) says:

Re: Morons

definitely, your “right” to watch whatever content you want completely trumps any “right” people have to be paid for working.

keep at it, it looks like you are going to get what you want. just explain how HBO is going to pay to produce Game of Thrones, Netflix makes Daredevil, etc. Believe it or not, actual money is exchanged in the production of those shows. So you are welcome to strip all the money out of the system as you believe is your right. But your demand that Netflx, HBO, Disney, etc produce multi-million dollars’ worth of content for you for free is not likely to be met.

klaus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Morons

“just explain how HBO is going to pay to produce Game of Thrones, Netflix makes Daredevil, etc”

It’s not so bleak. Personally, I still buy physical media to give as presents. I sometimes watch public broadcasts of content that has been paid for by the advertisers whose content I also (have to) watch. I go to the cinema, oftentimes just to get out of the house.

Not to disagree with you, just pointing out that there are many different revenue streams. And many different moralities; Whisper’s is certainly not universal.

klaus says:

Re: Re:

I’m not sure if you’re in the US, but for well over a decade, under the Shengen agreement, Europe has relaxed its internal borders. The political landscape may well change with the influx of migrants, but that said, I’d be well hacked off if Netflix tried to anchor my account to whichever bank account I happened to be using the day I registered with them…

But like you, I don’t believe that Netflix give a damn.

cortiferet says:

This is why I’m so happy I decided to get Surfshark VPN. Now there are so many countries and servers on Netflix, and you have many more movies and TV series to choose from because the content sometimes differs in different regions. For example, I wanted to rewatch all the Marvel movies, and I found this link with a chronological list and servers in which you can find each movie (

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