Netflix combats VPN region bypassing by blocking some residential IP addresses

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,165   +872
Staff member
A hot potato: It appears that Netflix is expanding its efforts to curb users from bypassing region locks with VPNs and proxies by banning hundreds of thousands of residential IP addresses. Now some legitimate subscribers that do not use a VPN are finding themselves unable to access some content.

Netflix began banning VPN providers in 2014 after receiving several complaints from rights holders. Users and VPN services continued to find workarounds, and in 2016, PayPal allied with Netflix by severing payment processing services associated with some VPN providers. This back-and-forth has gone on for years.

One bypass that some VPNs adopted is to use residential addresses to route traffic through. Netflix's systems see these addresses as legitimate users, so those outside the US can bypass region locks. This method was not a big secret and worked for quite a while.

However, TorrentFreak notes that Netflix now appears to be blocking residential IP addresses associated with certain VPN providers. WeVPN was the first to notice the streaming service blocking its residential addresses. The problem with this is that hundreds of thousands of subscribers who do not use a VPN are finding themselves limited to Netflix originals. Others are outright restricted from access and are presented with a notification to turn off their VPN.

While Netflix clearly has a right to stop VPN use in its service, banning entire blocks of residential IPs might not have been the best solution. The streaming giant is aware of the problem but has not officially acknowledged it or proposed a suitable solution. The best fix Netflix Customer Service Twitter feed can produce is to contact your ISP to see if they can tell you why your IP address is associated with a proxy or VPN.

Permalink to story.

 

Dimitriid

Posts: 1,131   +2,146
I bet they're really feeling the heat if they're trying this: I am almost sure most of the companies they license content from are using the fact that they've got far more notorious competitors now to demand these kind of measures.

However it just cannot end well: Netflix should be focusing on enhancing and expanding their original content instead. Yes I know: it has a terrible rep, but improving it it's a much better bet than waiting to die a painful, slow death by being strangled out of content.
 

zulu53

Posts: 64   +21
Netflix as a servant of big media (content providers) does not sound like a good business model for them. Big media with their own streaming services (now) will throttle the content to Netflix whatever Netflix does about regional limitations. Better for Netflix to keep their current customer base happy, and not piss them off with this "banning" concept AND keep on building their own content.
 

Alex1105

Posts: 23   +20
I believe their measures will most likely hurt more for normal run-of-the-mill users than for those that are using VPN's, just because people attempting that have more knowledge and are more focused in attaining their goals. There will always be an alternative solution to circumvent the rules, for those that seek it and have enough experience in doing so.
 

brucek

Posts: 901   +1,305
"While Netflix clearly has a right to stop VPN use in its service"...

That "right" is not at all clear to me. In general, at least in the US, there is not a globally enforceable right to demand a unique identifier from each person you come in contact with. The first example I can think of social security numbers, which way back when they were first created, came with explicit laws about the limited purposes they could be used for (which protections we've been eroding ever since.)

If you're tunnel visioning on just Netflix and content, maybe that makes sense (although - does it really? what's wrong with just requiring a US issued credit card for example?)

If you're thinking bigger picture on are we as a society OK with businesses restricting VPN use so they can better track their users with a pseudo-unique identifier (not really, I know) -- no I do not agree with that.
 

captaincranky

Posts: 17,408   +6,143
Well, between "Vigilante" malware
Windows 11's TPM
Captcha wanting to issue keys to individuals
Apple rooting through your phone
And now Netflix cutting off residential IP addresses.
We''ll be like corralled sheep, and everybody will be scrutinized, hogtied, and bled dry by the internet moguls,.
 

HotToz

Posts: 37   +56
That's one of the reason I dont like geo ip, ISP usually buy IP ranges from a different country or they have presence on other countries and swap their IP ranges. Those Geo IP DB are always one or two steps behind real distribution
 

NightAntilli

Posts: 775   +974
My view on this is simple;

Region locks are stupid. The internet is and should be global. Yes, I understand that things can get murky sometimes, so...
If you require to censor certain content in certain countries due to legal reasons, and someone in that country is accessing the content anyway through a VPN, that is their issue, not Netflix's.

Netflix should stop playing internet police. It will only end badly for them.
 

waclark

Posts: 105   +66
"While Netflix clearly has a right to stop VPN use in its service"...

That "right" is not at all clear to me. In general, at least in the US, there is not a globally enforceable right to demand a unique identifier from each person you come in contact with. The first example I can think of social security numbers, which way back when they were first created, came with explicit laws about the limited purposes they could be used for (which protections we've been eroding ever since.)

If you're tunnel visioning on just Netflix and content, maybe that makes sense (although - does it really? what's wrong with just requiring a US issued credit card for example?)

If you're thinking bigger picture on are we as a society OK with businesses restricting VPN use so they can better track their users with a pseudo-unique identifier (not really, I know) -- no I do not agree with that.
I assume what the author was trying to imply is the use of VPN to get around Region Locked content. In that case, as unfortunate as it may be, they do have that right and are obligated by the rights holders to protect those copyrights.

Whether content should be locked at that level is a different discussion. Today this is what we have. For me, this needs to change. Content creators, in some cases, are getting revenue over and over, often from the same user. That's what I don't like.
 

waclark

Posts: 105   +66
My view on this is simple;

Region locks are stupid. The internet is and should be global. Yes, I understand that things can get murky sometimes, so...
If you require to censor certain content in certain countries due to legal reasons, and someone in that country is accessing the content anyway through a VPN, that is their issue, not Netflix's.

Netflix should stop playing internet police. It will only end badly for them.
It's not about "the Internet". It's about who owns the rights. For any given piece of work there could be many different people or corporations that own the rights and therefore, expect to get paid when the content is used. It's not about censorship, it's about revenue.

It is Netflix's problem when they do nothing to prevent unauthorized access. The copyright holders can sue Netflix for loss of income and profit.
 

NightAntilli

Posts: 775   +974
It's not about "the Internet". It's about who owns the rights. For any given piece of work there could be many different people or corporations that own the rights and therefore, expect to get paid when the content is used. It's not about censorship, it's about revenue.

It is Netflix's problem when they do nothing to prevent unauthorized access. The copyright holders can sue Netflix for loss of income and profit.
And how exactly do they lose profit, if the ones accessing the content are still doing it through Netflix through a subscription?

And imagine if I live in country X, I go to country Y on vacation, but the show I was watching, isn't available in country Y. It's in the interest of Netflix and whoever has the rights to allow such a person to watch the content abroad, instead of having that person drop the entire show and watch something else.
 
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havok585

Posts: 269   +121
It's not about "the Internet". It's about who owns the rights. For any given piece of work there could be many different people or corporations that own the rights and therefore, expect to get paid when the content is used. It's not about censorship, it's about revenue.

It is Netflix's problem when they do nothing to prevent unauthorized access. The copyright holders can sue Netflix for loss of income and profit.
They cant sue netflix for "loss of income" when the income is already there (us residents pay the same as those outside us region or even less).
 

waclark

Posts: 105   +66
They cant sue netflix for "loss of income" when the income is already there (us residents pay the same as those outside us region or even less).
But it's not there. The revenue, say for a Disney program in the US, isn't the same as the revenue for the same program in a different country. They could be completely different entities. It's incredibly complicated when applied to a world-wide market. Even within the US, organizations like the NFL are very particular about where you can watch a particular event. It all has to do with revenue, TV revenue but also Stadium revenue.

It's not the Netflix revenue in question, it's what does Netflix pay in country A versus country B.

The point is why would they block content if there wasn't revenue or copyright laws tied to it?
 

brucek

Posts: 901   +1,305
It is Netflix's problem when they do nothing to prevent unauthorized access. The copyright holders can sue Netflix for loss of income and profit.
The assumption there is that VPN blocking is a reasonable step that Netflix could be obliged to take in order to determine region eligibility. This is the assumption I am directly trying to question. I admit the issue is not really considered yet as far as I know in either legislation or case law, but it's day should be coming.

As this article makes clear, usage of a VPN is not a direct 1:1 indication of the user's region. It has not been reliable to prevent wrong region users, and now it appears it is not reliable to not wrongly prevent eligible users. And what if we were to find out those users being blocked are not in fact a purely random sample, but perhaps are over-weighted towards a particular demographic that may fall in a protected class. Is Netflix shielded from discrimination claims in that case?

In examining this issue, one of the related relevant factors would be what other options do Netflix and/or the rights holders have. I am not an expert but on the surface but I do not see why determining the user's region can not be part of the sign up process and tied to the account level, which guarantees one region per account, and proper accounting for how many users were eligible for which region's content.
 

waclark

Posts: 105   +66
The assumption there is that VPN blocking is a reasonable step that Netflix could be obliged to take in order to determine region eligibility. This is the assumption I am directly trying to question. I admit the issue is not really considered yet as far as I know in either legislation or case law, but it's day should be coming.

As this article makes clear, usage of a VPN is not a direct 1:1 indication of the user's region. It has not been reliable to prevent wrong region users, and now it appears it is not reliable to not wrongly prevent eligible users. And what if we were to find out those users being blocked are not in fact a purely random sample, but perhaps are over-weighted towards a particular demographic that may fall in a protected class. Is Netflix shielded from discrimination claims in that case?

In examining this issue, one of the related relevant factors would be what other options do Netflix and/or the rights holders have. I am not an expert but on the surface but I do not see why determining the user's region can not be part of the sign up process and tied to the account level, which guarantees one region per account, and proper accounting for how many users were eligible for which region's content.
I agree, simple use of a VPN is not enough to determine if you are ineligible to watch specific region locked content. However, when many of the VPN vendors out there have specific instructions on how to watch Netflix, amongst other, content in different regions I think you can see that there might be a reasonable suspicion.

And I think the question is why can't a user in Region A, pay for a service in Region B and watch content for Region B?
 

3volv3d

Posts: 409   +209
So I can watch stuff they removed from the UK netflix and maybe its in France. I can finish watching something I missed out on.
Ban us all, we go to torrents.
Ban that and we all fly drones and send each other the spoils of the rebellion.
And then we watch cops on their oppressors hunting them down.
Shooting them out the sky or pulling them over and talking into the on board camera.
"You're in direct breach of several laws, here's your fine / summons"
Slaps ticket on.
I dont get it, netflix is paid for, I am sure its converted many a TV/film pirate or slowed the flow.
Its an epic win for them I'd have thought.
Quit ya bitchin!
 

waclark

Posts: 105   +66
So I can watch stuff they removed from the UK netflix and maybe its in France. I can finish watching something I missed out on.
Ban us all, we go to torrents.
Ban that and we all fly drones and send each other the spoils of the rebellion.
And then we watch cops on their oppressors hunting them down.
Shooting them out the sky or pulling them over and talking into the on board camera.
"You're in direct breach of several laws, here's your fine / summons"
Slaps ticket on.
I dont get it, netflix is paid for, I am sure its converted many a TV/film pirate or slowed the flow.
Its an epic win for them I'd have thought.
Quit ya bitchin!
Because what Netflix pays for content in the US could be different than in the UK. And not only what they pay but who they pay. If you simply allow unfettered access to programming anywhere from anywhere you are potentially bypassing the lawful owner of that content and they may not get paid.

It's not an epic win because Netflix could be held liable for allowing unauthorized users to access content they should not be able to access. The copyright laws are truly a complex mess and need to be reworked.