How do many expats, regardless of country, stay informed of Jane’s and Mindy’s pregnancies, or Abbi’s Bed, Bath and Beyond obsession? Via virtual private network, or VPN. Or a proxy server. Or Hola!, a plugin for Chrome.

This past week, The New York Times focused on how virtual private networks or proxies allow people to access content outside of their host country:

Millions of people around the world now pay for virtual private computer networks — a security method that uses encryption to hide Internet traffic — and similar services to hook into a server in the United States. As far as the video and retail services can tell, Mr. Drury is one more American customer.–New York Times, Febuary 8, 2015

The writer used a Kiwi and New Zealand as part of his anecdotal lede. Mr. Drury is Rob Drury, the CEO of Wellington-based Xero, an accounting software startup that competes with Intuit. To read that a CEO is using a VPN is striking to me because I thought using a VPN to get around geoblocked content is a fuzzy legal area. If you aren’t supposed to see something based on your current location, is it OK to use a VPN to get a new IP address that does allows you to see that content?

Perhaps the gray area, as the NYT mentions, has more to do with the terms of service (ToS) for services like Netflix, which prohibits the use of VPNs and proxies. (For more on this, check out this Best of Netflix article. Or check out this Quora thread.)

The Netflix spokesperson conceded in an email to the NYT reporter that they can’t nail down who’s using a VPN or proxy. So how could Netflix (or Hulu or BBC or whatever) enforce their ToS if the user is protected by a VPN or proxy? I don’t know the answer to this. Something having to do with traffic from a given IP? If you do know the answer to this, please email me or comment on this post.

This recent article from the Washington Post alludes to expats use of VPNs and proxies or lack thereof:

Unfortunately, users outside the United States who aren’t savvy enough to use a virtual private network or proxy to make it appear as though they are within the United States will be stuck paying $54.99 to watch the game via the NFL Game Pass.–Washington Post, January 30, 2015

One thing I wish the NYT article mentioned: In New Zealand, there is an Internet provider that provides access to a VPN. Slingshot offers Global Mode, which allow Kiwis to access Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and others. How bad can VPNs be if a Kiwi ISP is offering one as part of its services? This July 2014 article by StopPressNZ outlines the potential issues Global Mode could raise for Slingshot. (For the record, we don’t use Slingshot, no particular reason, no strong feelings.)

Have you ever used a VPN? Share your thoughts in the comments.