Is Netflix cracking down on VPNs?
Staff Writer | On 13, Oct 2022
With Netflix facing an increasingly tough time this year, the streaming giant is attempting to navigate a number of headwinds, including a rise in the cost of living, an increase in production costs due to the Covid-19 pandemic and an expanding number of competitors at a wide range of price points. In the first three months of 2022, the company lost 200,000 subscribers worldwide – its first net decline in more than a decade – and in the three months to the end of June, it lost 970,000 subscribers.
It has since been looking to respond through a range of measures, including a new ad-supported tier at a lower price to attract customers managing tighter budgets and the experimental trial of a password-sharing feature that will allow users to give access to their account to people from outside of their household. There’s another area where Netflix may also be looking to tidy up its ledger: is Netflix cracking down on VPNs?
To understand the answer to that question, it helps to understand a little bit about what a VPN – or virtual private network – is and how it works.
A virtual private network is essentially a way of masking your internet connection and access by making it as private as possible. That is because it hides the IP (internet protocol) that all devices and internet connections carry, which effectively generates a digital address. The way a VPN works is by passing your internet connection through another server, which means that your IP address will show up as a different one from your own – it will appear as if you are accessing the internet through wherever that proxy server is located. That server can be in another town, another country or another continent. Think of it as having a remote post box in another location that handles your incoming and outgoing letters, or a private tunnel that your connection goes through before surfacing on the web. When the connection goes through the tunnel, the data is encrypted using a key shared by the client and the proxy server, which means that the connection is secure and private.
There are a whole host of reasons why you might use a VPN – it can make a connection safer in public, for example, when using a wifi hotspot and you’re concerned about a lack of encryption for your passwords and other data. By encrypting your traffic, your browsing is secure as well as private. While the security aspects can be useful for online banking on the go, and the IP address making can prevent websites from increasing their prices based on your browsing history (for example, when booking a flight), it’s the geographic element that is relevant for this streaming age: by changing your apparent location, a VPN can allow you to access websites that are restricted by user location. If, for example, a film is only available on Netflix in the UK and Ireland, a VPN can allow someone in the USA or another country access the UK content.
Netflix’s take on the practice is simple: the terms and conditions state “you may access the Netflix content 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 content”.
Many VPN providers do not encourage using VPNs in a way that would break the terms of conditions of a streaming service provider. Meanwhile, if you do and Netflix detects it, you will likely encounter an error message when trying to acccess Netflix: “You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy.”
However, Netflix is increasingly investing in original titles rather than licensing shows and films from third parties. As more companies launch their own streaming services to host their titles, Netflix’s library will more and more rely on originals that can be watched in all countries and territories regardless. The question of Netflix cracking down on VPNs, then, will perhaps eventually be a moot one.