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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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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