Is Netflix Actually Going To Ban VPN Users?

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Netflix has the power to ban users but evidence from company and VPN providers suggests it wont

Netflix appears to have the power to ban users who use location-hiding technologies such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and proxies but it is unclear whether it is exercising this right or if it has any intention do so.

One Reddit user was notified that the streaming site’s terms of use had changed and upon closer inspection of Articles 6C and 6H, discovered that accessing a different country’s catalogue could lead to the termination of service.

Terms of use

Netflix TV“You may view a movie or TV show through the Netflix service primarily within the country in which you have established your account and only in geographic locations where we offer our service and have licensed such movie or TV show,” reads Article 6C. “The content that may be available to watch will vary by geographic location. Netflix will use technologies to verify your geographic location.

“We may terminate or restrict your use of our service, without compensation or notice if you are, or if we reasonably believe that you are (i) in violation of any of these Terms of Use or (ii) engaged in illegal or improper use of the service.”

VPNs are popular among many users as not all content is available in all countries. For example, every episode of Friends can be viewed using the US version of the site, but not in the UK.  Some also use location hiding techniques in countries where Netflix isn’t available at all. Others use VPNs to avoid throttling from their ISP, especially in the US where Netflix itself has campaigned for net neutrality.

VPN worries

This crusade, along with the fact that a significant number of Netflix’s customers use VPNs, makes it unlikely the company would actually exercise its new power. Indeed, CEO Reed Hastings disputed claims in January the company’s stance on VPNs had changed and assured users such methods would still work.

Reports earlier this year claimed Android users were being forced to use Google DNS, that some VPN IP ranges were being blocked and that Netflix was using GPS and time zone comparisons in order to determine an accurate location.

VPN provider TorGuard said in January that its users had been experiencing problems accessing Netflix since the previous November, but issues had been solved by switching to another US-based location. This led to suggestions the company was simply testing the technology, possible to appease content rights holders.

‘No disruption’

Netflix iOSNetflix’s terms of use haven’t actually changed since January 2015 and VPN provier UnoTelly claims the individual articles cited by the Reddit users have not actually been altered since September 2013, adding that similar wording has been in place since September 2010.

The company also points out that none of the terms specifically mention VPN or DNS and that it hasn’t noticed any impact on its own customers.

“There has not been any recent change in UnoTelly’s service,” said a company spokesperson. “Our customers can continue to use our DNS and VPN services as normal. In an event that a customer experiences a disruption in service, he or she can contact us and we will help them to quickly restore access.”

Global access

Netflix had not responded to TechWeekEurope’s requests for comment at the time of publication, but told the Independent the actions being taken were no different to other websites.

“Virtually crossing borders to use Netflix is a violation of our terms of use because of content licensing restrictions,” a Netflix spokesperson told the newspaper. “We employ industry standard measures to prevent this kind of use. We have not recently made any changes to these measures or to our terms of use.

“By way of background, what we do is nothing different than what traditional TV networks do to prevent, for example, someone from outside the US from watching the Olympics on NBC.com. Further background: We are working to become a global Internet TV network and, as part of that, will have more global rights to series, features, docs, comedy specials, etc., this should make this whole issue moot overtime.”

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