Auck Ward

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How Would Hulu or Netflix Shut Down Expats Circumventing Geoblocks?

Hulu geoblock page. Screenshot by Tina.

How do expats access movies and TV shows if they are geoblocked because they are not located in the States? Via VPNs and proxies, which violate the sites’ terms of service. So how would Netflix, Hulu or other streaming sites target expats navigating around geoblocks?

In a recent New York Times article, a Netflix spokesperson conceded that it couldn’t really do a lot to prevent people from accessing content via a VPN. So I asked: How could streaming media services reinforce their terms of service then?

An Auck Ward reader recently emailed me with an explanation. He or she asked me to keep him or her anonymous, but you can trust on good authority this person knows IT well. I lightly edited for punctuation:

Regarding the detection of individuals circumventing geoblocks: I think there are a few things to this, one being the drive of companies like Netflix to actually expend the effort to crack down on it. Doing so would also be costly on their part. I think they’re more likely to want to take some action when Netflix is live in a particular country.

The work to detect it would involve using a big data analysis tool like Splunk or Arcsight (likely a SIEM solution – Security Information and Event Management). The company with the geoblock would have to research all of the players offering VPN/Proxy/DNS Proxy services to figure out what IP networks they were using. They could then correlate that data against the data in their SIEM tool, which would include customer connection data. All of the connection data is collected anyway for threat analysis. In doing this they could identify pockets of customers and shut them down.

One of the challenges they would face is that the operators of the VPN/Proxy/DNS Proxy services would swap out their IPs as soon as they notice services were being shut down. It would be very difficult for a company to completely eradicate all users of location hiding services, especially smaller groups of individuals who perhaps have servers of their own that they’re routing traffic through.

Well, there you have it. Nailing down expats trying to get their streaming fix is like playing Whac-A-Mole.

Comments? Those go here.

Related post:
How Do Expats Keep Up with Overseas Content? VPNs, Proxies, Hola!

How Do Expats Keep Up with Overseas Content? VPNs, Proxies, Hola!

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.

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