Netflix's Ramped Up War On VPNs Comes With Collateral Damage

from the whoops-a-daisy dept

As Netflix has grown internationally, the company has increased its crackdown on “content tourism,” or the act of using a VPN to trick Netflix into letting you watch content specifically licensed for other countries. If you take a look at what’s available per country, the motivation to use a VPN to watch content not available in your market becomes abundantly obvious.

Pressured by copyright holders concerned about this “piracy,” Netflix began beefing up its war on VPNs around 2016. This primarily involved blocking VPN IP addresses used by users trying to avoid this sort of “geofencing.”

Initially it wasn’t particularly difficult for VPN providers to skirt the restrictions. Often by trying to disguise their VPN IP addresses as the IP addresses of normal, residential broadband users. But more recently, Netflix has been beefing up its VPN blocking efforts, including the banning of some residential IP addresses:

“Netflix doesn?t explain which IP addresses are blocked and why, but the most recent efforts are much broader than before. This issue was brought to our attention by WeVPN, which noticed that the updated geo-fencing system is blocking its residential IP addresses.”

The problem is that determining which IP address is a VPN disguised as a residential broadband subscriber, and which IP address is an actual residential broadband subscriber is going to prove difficult, inevitably leading to some collateral damage:

“The collateral damage is that you have hundreds of thousands of legitimate residential Netflix subscribers blocked from accessing Netflix?s local country full catalog from their home,? a WeVPN spokesperson informs us.

While we are unable to verify how many people are facing issues, it is clear that the measures are spilling over to regular subscribers.

Torrent Freak points to a growing number of complaints on Reddit from folks saying that they suddenly can’t access content they pay for, and none of them appear to be using a VPN or proxy to disguise their real IP address. Netflix’s response so far has been in a few instances to try and blame the user’s ISP:

Netflix hasn’t been particularly clear yet on exactly what they’re doing, but it’s fairly clear the new lockdown is coming with some collateral damage, an internet-filtering inevitability.

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Comments on “Netflix's Ramped Up War On VPNs Comes With Collateral Damage”

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65 Comments
Anonymoussays:

not sure why netflix is pointing to the (hopefully former) subscribers’ ISP. did netflix set up a portal or API to allow service providers access to their block-list? did netflix provide training for ISP’s analysts? is netflix paying for ISPs to track down their issues?

i really want to know why netflix is roping Internet Service Providers into their shirt show.

barc_issays:

Why is this "geofencing" necessary anyways? They know where you’re from when you register (country billing address etc.) and they know which shows are permitted to be broadcast in different areas. Shouldn’t this be enough to "limit" what is available under your account? This whole anti-VPN thing smacks of MUCH MORE than copyright and/or availability!

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

Absolute bollocks as far as Netflix is concerned – they already have your money and your viewing activity and have no need to sell any additional data to advertisers since their business model is not advertising.

It’s quite simple in reality – the movie/TV industry has not yet caught up to the rest of the world and depend on artificial regions to make their money. They make a lot of their revenue by selling rights to different people in different places, which means that if you watch the show in the "wrong" region, then the "wrong" person gets the money. Netflix don’t generally have this problem with their own content as they distribute globally, it’s usually down to 3rd party content.

To give a concrete example – Star Trek Discovery is on Netflix outside of the US/Canada. CBS want to make sure that people in North America are forced to sign up for CBS’s own streaming service to watch the show, and not use a VPN to watch it on their existing Netflix subscription. So, Netflix are pressured into complying with their demands to block VPN usage, under threat of losing the show on their service elsewhere.

Samuel Abramsays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s quite simple in reality – the movie/TV industry has not yet caught up to the rest of the world and depend on artificial regions to make their money. They make a lot of their revenue by selling rights to different people in different places, which means that if you watch the show in the "wrong" region, then the "wrong" person gets the money. Netflix don’t generally have this problem with their own content as they distribute globally, it’s usually down to 3rd party content.

It’s also more complicated than that: There are local regulations that prohibit certain content from airing. For instance, Full Metal Jacket couldn’t be shown in Vietnam, and the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead couldn’t be shown in Germany. (Then again you said "Third Party Content", so I guess we agree on this point).

Also, when Netflix was the home for the revival of Mystery Science Theater 3000, it was only shown in countries where English is a de facto or de jure official language, so countries that speak English excellently but otherwise speak it as a secondary language (such as the Netherlands) were left out in the cold. That being said, the Netflix seasons are released DRM-free on other places such as Vimeo and Rifftrax, so I guess a legal loophole is available there without resorting to piracy.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well, censorship and other concerns are a different issue and way more complicated, of course. Generally speaking, the main issue is licensing, and the industry is very backward in that respect. I’ve spent a lot of time watching movies in a film festival in, say, the UK while it’s hoping for a distributor off the back of the reaction there despite already being out on DVD in Japan and getting a US release the following week. I can name films that took years to get a legal release despite the fact that some people could already buy it before I saw it.

It’s very frustrating being unable to tell people to obtain an outstanding movie legally because the industry has decided they need to pretend that nobody in each region will ever communicate. I’m seeing signs that it’s improving, especially as services like Shudder and Arrow are picking up the truly indie fare instead of having to wait for a major distributor to show interest, but it’s an industry-wide problem. It’s not a problem that will go away until licensing models change.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re:

To give a concrete example – Star Trek Discovery is on Netflix outside of the US/Canada. CBS want to make sure that people in North America are forced to sign up for CBS’s own streaming service to watch the show, and not use a VPN to watch it on their existing Netflix subscription.

No need to worry about that. Nobody wants to watch STD anywhere. They tried putting it on TV for free in 2020 and it was literally the worst rated show of the year.

nerdragesays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re:

They’re catching up. When Paramount+ yanks its content off Netflix and plans global expansion, that means Netflix isn’t going to license content from them in some countries and not in others. Star Trek is a prime example of this. When Paramount+ is global, I’m sure then they will have a monopoly on their future shows.

However the good news is that Paramount+’s Star Trek series suck so who cares where they are. Seriously, what a horrible job they’ve done with it. I hope Amazon buys ViacomCBS just so they can fire everyone who has anything to do with their utter butchery of Star Trek.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s literally the same issue as DVD region codes – while the tech allows global distribution, the business model used is still a regional one, where they sell rights to numerous different companies in different territories. Until the industry catches up with the idea that borders don’t matter to either the tech or the consumer, they will continue fighting this battle, as they fought against TV and video before.

nerdragesays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re:

Regional licensing isn’t nearly as profitable as global streaming. When one company like Netflix can have a direct relationship with customers all over the world, taking their credit cards and making stuff they have global licenses on (because they made it) to stream to them, that’s the most profitable possible model. It cuts out all the middlemen who used to siphon off profits.

That’s why Netflix is taking over the world and forcing Hollywood/Silicon Valley to adapt to their model. There is no beating it. Disney can beat Netflix because they are copying their business model but using it for their hugely popular brands like Marvel and Star Wars.

And that is the winning model: huge global brands with Netflix style distribution. Too bad Netflix itself can’t afford to buy any brands and is having a hard time building them from scratch. Jupiter’s Legacy is no Marvel. I doubt Cowboy Bebop is going to be Star Wars either…

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Regional licensing isn’t nearly as profitable as global streaming."

Not true, sadly. If you get a good global deal it can be very lucrative, but if you split it up and get top dollar from different places it can be more profitable. It certainly depends on the product, but if a project didn’t originate in-house from a source that has an existing global presence, splitting things up can be way more profitable.

"Too bad Netflix itself can’t afford to buy any brands and is having a hard time building them from scratch. Jupiter’s Legacy is no Marvel. I doubt Cowboy Bebop is going to be Star Wars either…"

Nicely cherry picked. I could point to Stranger Things and The Queen’s Gambit and Money Heist and so on and reach the opposite conclusion. In fact, you just identified the real issue inadvertently – Netflix’s strength is when they don’t try to imitate other brands and just do what they do on their own.

Rekrulsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s literally the same issue as DVD region codes – while the tech allows global distribution, the business model used is still a regional one, where they sell rights to numerous different companies in different territories.

That never made sense to me either. DVD region codes were pretty ineffective. Many/most DVD players had hidden codes you could enter to change the region code, or make them region free (temporarily).

DVD drives for computers had flashable firmware and people made region-free firmware files for them. Or you could buy a relatively cheap piece of software that would bypass the region code even on a region-locked drive. Most also bypassed the restrictions on the disc allowing you to skip the crap at the start.

And if all that fails, you could just buy a DVD player from a different region, or one that was region-free to start with.

OK, maybe region codes might stop the average non-tech movie buyer, but then again, the average movie buyer isn’t likely to be buying imported discs anyway. Those who wanted them would know how to play them. It was hardly a secure system.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re:

"That never made sense to me either. DVD region codes were pretty ineffective"

Basically, the story is that region differences used to be naturally occurring. With home video, the differences were that the US used NTSC, UK used PAL, France used SECAM, etc., and that since different tapes had to be created for each market as a result they got sold that way.

With DVD, you could have multiple formats and languages on each disc, and as multiple format TVs were becoming more common (even in the mid-90s I had a small VCR/TV combo with a switch to play either NTSC or PAL). So, they had to start artificially enforcing the regions.

All the stupid problems with DVDs and region coding came down to one thing – the studios recognised they had a cash cow and didn’t want things like free markets interfering. There was hope that this was starting to become old hat (Blu Ray only has 3 major regions compared to the 7 on DVD, and some studios release them region free), but since streaming allows them to theoretically enforce regions more granularly down to the country, they backtracked severely.

Rekrulsays:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

Basically, the story is that region differences used to be naturally occurring. With home video, the differences were that the US used NTSC, UK used PAL, France used SECAM, etc., and that since different tapes had to be created for each market as a result they got sold that way.

Before I knew anything about different TV formats, I used to wonder why a lot of the pirated games I got for my C64 didn’t work correctly. I used to think the groups were just bad at cracking games.

It wasn’t until later that I learned that I was trying to run PAL games on an NTSC system. When I got my Amiga, I upgraded the graphics chip to one that could be switched between the two systems.

but since streaming allows them to theoretically enforce regions more granularly down to the country, they backtracked severely.

Ironically, by labeling VPN use to access titles from another country as "piracy" and attempting to prevent it, they’re encouraging actual piracy.

nerdragesays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s not the same as DVD region codes at all. Streaming has been the wild west but now it’s all becoming more rational if perhaps more frustrating. Disney won’t license its content to Netflix, HBO Max won’t either. The big competitors are all going global or planning to soon. With ViacomCBS it’s unclear whether they want to go global or get sold to a bigger competitor before that. But if Amazon or Apple buys ViacomCBS then the content is global anyway.

Streaming businesses are being forced to go global by competitive pressures but it’s happening in the usual chaotic style. Some of it will be because a company really did expand globally and some of it will be thru acquisitions. Of course none of this involves China, which won’t let streaming companies in, but that’s another issue: government censorship causing geoblocks. No good solution to that.

Bruce C.says:

Re: Re:

If you travel and take a device with you, you still retain your account, but the content available will be the content available in the country you are connecting from, not the country of your billing address. The licenses for the content depend on the location of the viewer, not the location of the account.

If they changed the licenses to work the other way, the loophole would be the other way around — People could travel to other countries and share videos not normally available in that country, or instead of VPNs, people would setup storefronts to provide billing/account addresses across licensing regions.

Maybe the VPNs should be disguising themselves as hotels rather than residential addresses?

nerdragesays:

Re: Re: geofencing should be on its way out...

Geofencing exists because Netflix gets a license to Show A in Country B but not Countries C, D and E. But since everyone is taking their content off Netflix to make their own streaming platforms, that should be the end of geofencing (in favor of content being scattered around various platforms, each of which either have the same libraries worldwide, or will. Because the economics of streaming don’t work unless you have the biggest possible subscriber base. If a platform like Paramount+ doesn’t figure out how to go global, then Amazon will buy them and their content will be global that way.

When all this equalizes, the only remaining source of geoblocking should be national governments, which already are starting in on quotas and censorship. And unlike business-driven geoblocking – which makes no economic sense and will eventually be eradicated just by market forces – government-driven geoblocking is impossible to effectively battle. Netflix et al aren’t going to risk being booted out of countries entirely just to defend free speech. So, VPNs will have a purpose some places forever.

ECAsays:

Its going to get worse

The gov. hasnt done anything.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DVD_region_code

How does a corp create a limitation on distribution?
Zone 1 is SUPPOSED to be Canada and USA. But for some strange reason, the USA is restricted for watch canada TV.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITU_Region
This is radio, but I can understand radio restriction based on how many channels can be used.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geo-blocking
Then things get weirder.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regional_lockout

This has been happening for so long and its confusing Who and watch what. Esp. with the internet giving you world wide access. Its an Over complication, that does not need to Be.
What do the corps get? not much. How many interracial persons would love to watch Video in their own language?? Just another way to separate the nations. It also restricts the News from those nations. From independents to national and international news.
How does 1 group have such power? could it be that our National companies have taken things over world wide? why not. India never used to have problems with International countries using their videos, until recently. My question is Who gets the money with these agencies controlling Who and where audio and video are played?

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Its going to get worse

"How does a corp create a limitation on distribution?
Zone 1 is SUPPOSED to be Canada and USA. But for some strange reason, the USA is restricted for watch canada TV."

This is very simple. DVD region codes have nothing to do with licensing for the content itself, nor do they have anything to do with content not on DVD.

The rest of your comment is the usual incoherent nonsense you spout, but the bottom line is that it’s down to the people who own the content how they want to license it, and they have a very bad track record of picking what’s best for consumers, or even their own business.

ECAsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Its going to get worse

The difficulty tends to be, getting someone to Pay for it in that region.
And then paying for it, they have to earn money from it. They only show products, that they have an idea of making more money.
Then you can also look at the idea that the same people who own/control distribution in the USA, also own/control those in Canada.
Its similar, to how India movies and such are now, being copyrighted around the world, when they really didnt give a darn, about other countries watching their shows, until recently.

Davesays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Its going to get worse

Then you can also look at the idea that the same people who own/control distribution in the USA, also own/control those in Canada.

Not correct. We have our own private broadcasters here in Canada, and they have exclusive rights in this country to a lot of American TV shows. For instance, "Star Trek: Discovery" can only be viewed in Canada on Bell Media’s "Crave" service.

nerdragesays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re: Its going to get worse

When and if Paramount+ expands into Canada, then they can make future Star Trek series exclusive to Paramount+ because at that point it would make no sense for them to license their content to anyone else in Canada. The point of making it is so they can profit from it.

The question is, will Paramount+ expand to Canada or get bought by Apple/Amazon first? In which case, Apple or Amazon will have the exclusive rights to Star Trek that they will be making from that point on.

Another question is, why watch Star Trek since ViacomCBS’s version of it is so awful but that’s another matter entirely.

TKnarrsays:

My guess would be that the "collateral damage" is related to IPv4 address-space exhaustion. VPN providers discard "dirty" blocks of address space (ones flagged as being associated with VPNs and thus blacklisted) and move to new "clean" blocks. Used to be that those discarded blocks would take quite a while to be reallocated to a new owner, but now with IPv4 space being scarce they’re being reallocated to new owners soon after being made available. The new owners now find themselves with address space that’s on various blacklists because of the previous owners, but with no idea about the situation because they don’t know who the previous owner even was let alone who’s got those netblocks on blacklists.

The only fix there would lie with Netflix, not the ISPs or whoever got the "dirty" address space, because it’s Netflix’s blacklist and they’re the only ones who can update it. They’d have to monitor address space releases and reallocations and remove stale entries from their blacklist, and I doubt they want to make that effort as long as they can get away with pointing fingers at someone else.

Uriel-238says:

Doesn't blocking service encourage piracy?

I routinely see memes about how the exclusive content war has rekindled piracy sites and piracy support.

By blocking service, even off-label service it only means more of their own customers will fly the black.???????

And then they start wondering why they pay for service after all.??

nerdragesays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Doesn't blocking service encourage piracy?

Scattering content is a win for the companies doing the scattering like Disney and Amazon. Maybe HBO Max too. It’s all a mad scramble to grow and become one of the very few survivors of the streaming wars. In a couple years the losers will go under and the winners will go global. Then there will be no more reason for geoblocking except what governments do.

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

"Netflix’s response so far has been in a few instances to try and blame the user’s ISP"

How you manage to turn paying customers into ex-customers.

Trying to find all the bad VPNs is a pointless game…
They could have spent the money pushing a much more intelligent solution… fix the rats nest of global rights that leads to people who want to pay you to use a VPN because of arbitrary rules that make no sense in an interconnected world.

Imagine being the first global platform and being able to mean it.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

If the lawyers and other licensing people simplified the system, probably 99% of them would be out of a job. They’d sell the rights to Star Trek once… and then what? They’d be done. And they wouldn’t be able to strongarm more money out of country B based on strong ratings in country A.

As for the earlier comment about creating "the first global platform", we don’t have to imagine it. Napster did it.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re:

"Just another reason not to use Netflix for me."

In that case, I hope that you realise that this stuff happens everywhere, and it wasn’t a Netflix decision. Netflix is actually quite focussed on getting its own original content available worldwide, regional restrictions usually only come in with content they licence from elsewhere.

I’d hate for you to give your money to the studios actually demanding this action from them because you mistakenly thought that this was a decision Netflix made of its own accord.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

"It doesn’t really make much difference to the end user who made the decision, does it?"

You might not care, but the industry does. If you go "screw you Netflix" because CBS made them do this, for example, and your reaction is to ditch Netflix and sign up for CBS, you’re rewarding the people who did this in the first place.

"But given the general badness of the content modern Hollywood puts out, I’m not often giving my money to anyone."

Which is a really dumb move. Instead of supporting the content you want to see, you ensure that only the people who want to watch the stuff you hate get counted. Good luck with that, the rest of us will vote with our wallets and ensure that more interesting projects are successful, and therefore more like that are funded.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

Fine, but on the flip side there’s no reason for them to make anything that you are interested in if you’re not supporting them. Which means they’ll continue to make things you don’t want to support. A vicious cycle, which I why I make sure to support the content I am interested in personally.

Anonymoussays:

the issue is, as i have said before, allowing total control of the Internet by the entertainment industries! once it happens, it’ll be too late to do anything about but on an almost daily basis, these industries stop something from happening, stop a company that provides a service from being able to. they will not be happy until they have this control and stop ordinary people from doing whatever they want on the net, which was the whole purpose, no limits, no restictions! the entertainment industries were too slow to take the internet seriously. now they have, they want to take everything possible that it has to offer, but give nothing in return! if they were so worried about what happens to their stuff, dont let it on the net in the first place! trouble is, that’s the part they want to keep because they are screwing people over, left, right and centre, taking as much money for downloads, with no physical copy as they did for physical copies! fucking disgraceful!!

nerdragesays:

Re: Re:

If a company makes a show or movie, they have total control over it because it’s their property. If they didn’t have total control over it, to profit from it, they wouldn’t make it in the first place. Nobody is making Black Widow or Star Trek for our benefit. They are making it to make money.

The streaming industry is in the transition between licensed content and the days when licensed content will go extinct since all the companies making the content will also have global streaming platforms to use to distribute it.

Anonymoussays:

I think their banning of residential VPNs could have to do with people, like me, who have run under-the=radar VPNs not hosted in datacenters, which most anti-VPN serrvices go on.

Before I retired, I use to run a small VPN off my connection which allowed servers, which was under-the-radar

I ran a very special VPN, which allowed people in schools and offices to bypass firewalls to get things like Internet radio, social media, shopping, or Netflix/Hulu from school or work, while still keeping things like porn, which should be kept out of offices, out, as well as block ads, and use the latest anti-adblock programs to block adblock detection scripts at the firewall level.

While my service, when I ran it, did not break either the CFAA, or any state laws, I did annoy some corporate network admins.

Netflix is finally cathching up to under-the-radar VPN services, like I used to run on my home residential connection, which allowed servers.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Regional licensing isn’t nearly as profitable as global streaming."

Not true, sadly. If you get a good global deal it can be very lucrative, but if you split it up and get top dollar from different places it can be more profitable. It certainly depends on the product, but if a project didn’t originate in-house from a source that has an existing global presence, splitting things up can be way more profitable.

"Too bad Netflix itself can’t afford to buy any brands and is having a hard time building them from scratch. Jupiter’s Legacy is no Marvel. I doubt Cowboy Bebop is going to be Star Wars either…"

Nicely cherry picked. I could point to Stranger Things and The Queen’s Gambit and Money Heist and so on and reach the opposite conclusion. In fact, you just identified the real issue inadvertently – Netflix’s strength is when they don’t try to imitate other brands and just do what they do on their own.

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