Netflix Plays Whack a Mole with VPNs

Netflix surprised us all at CES by announcing they were simultaneously launching in 190 countries.  The part they didn’t mention was the difference in content libraries between the regions.  Netflix users have been turning to VPNs to watch the streaming service from parts of the world that didn’t have access yet.  They also use VPNs to stream movies and tv shows that wouldn’t otherwise be available in their region.  In a post last week, Netflix vowed to take steps to detect and block VPN services.  This move is in contrast to previous statements and amounts to a game of whack a mole as VPNs will continue to find ways to unblock Netflix.

Netflix Whack a Mole

Is Netflix really getting serious about blocking VPNs or are they just taking steps to placate the content owners who don’t want users sidestepping the geo restrictions?  Your guess is as good as ours.  One thing we know is that millions of Netflix users would be impacted by the change.  That would be a blow to Netflix bottom line at a time when they are riding high and exceeding expectations.  Perhaps the biggest challenge to blocking proxy / VPN services would come in China.  That’s the one market that Netflix isn’t officially in yet.  They have a lot of members that rely on VPNs to stream the service from China.  That’s a large customer base that will essentially go away if Netflix blocks VPNs.  The only other alternative is using a Smart DNS service to access Netflix.

Being an old timer in the personal VPN space, it has been interesting to see the focus turn from privacy to unblocking geo restrictions.  That’s not to say that VPNs aren’t still a great solution for encrypting your connection.  If fact that’s the primary use for a VPN in my opinion.  Yet there are millions of users around the world that turn to proxy, VPN, and Smart DNS to unblock geo restrictions.  Netflix isn’t the first company to try to curtail these services.  Hulu and BBC iPlayer are in the middle of the whack a mole game as well.  Both services are still accessible from a wide range of VPNs so I wouldn’t worry too much about Netflix taking a similar approach.  At the end of the day it’s in Netflix best interest to allow users as much access as possible so just be patient and give the VPNs a few weeks to sort things out and find the best solution moving forward.