Netflix To Block VPNs & Proxies in the ‘Coming Weeks’

Much has been made of Netflix’s worldwide expansion and what it will mean for VPN providers but this week the streaming has made its intentions clear that it will take a more proactive stance against VPNs and proxies.


Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Photo: cellanr / Flickr

These sorts of tools are often used in Netflix to access content libraries that may be out of bounds. For example, the US version of Netflix is generally considered to be better than Canada’s or Australia’s.

David Fullagar, Netflix’s vice president of content delivery architecture, has said that the company will be stepping up its game in blocking the use of VPNs and proxies.

Netflix has broached the issue before but never been particularly hard line on the matter despite complaints from studios and rights holders. That may change now.

“This technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it,” said Fullagar. “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.”

With Netflix now available almost everywhere – except China for now – VPNs will have little use for people that are trying to get on the service in the first place. Instead you could expect to see VPNs flip their promotional language to accessing the best library for you. Now that appears to be in jeopardy too.

One of the major complaints against content owners is the idea of releasing TV shows or movies piecemeal around the world. It’s a method that has been lambasted as old fashioned and unfit for the Internet age. Now with Netflix available on a global scale, we may begin to see rights holders release their content worldwide in one go if it seems more beneficial to do so.

Still, it remains unclear how Netflix will specifically tackle the VPN problem it’s having in the immediate future.

Neil Hunt, chief product officer of Netflix, spoke with Canada’s The Globe and Mail last week and said it was “not obvious” how it will limit VPN use and said the company finds itself in a constant game of cat and mouse.

“We do apply industry standard technologies to limit the use of proxies,” Mr. 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.”

Hunt admitted that releasing content region by region tends to stoke piracy.

“When we have global rights, there’s a significant reduction in piracy pressure on that content,” he said. “If a major title goes out in the US but not in Europe, it’s definitely pirated in Europe, much more than it is if it’s released simultaneously.”