Location, Location, Location—used by the real estate business for years, today, that phrase seems apropos to the internet. Where you are in the world is essential when it comes to surfing the internet. Many countries and companies use a technique known as Geo-blocking to restrict or block access to some websites. Circumventing this block is our focus here.
What is “Geo-blocking”?
Geo-blocking on the internet has been around for quite some time. Corporations use Geo-blocking to prevent hackers from infiltrating the network and stealing information. Due to government restrictions and sanctions many websites are compelled to block access to them from other countries. So what is “Geo-blocking” exactly?
Geo-blocking is an ingenious technique used to prevent the downloading of applications and media based on location. It works by restricting access of targeted IP addresses. Companies like Netflix US use Geo-blocking to restrict access to streaming video outside the US area. Other sites that practice this form of censorship are Hulu and Google Voice as well as iBBC and iTunes. As long as you live outside the US or the UK, chances are, you won’t be able to watch Netflix movies or Netflix shows.
Why is there Geo-blocking?
Many websites like Netflix cite “regional licensing” as the reasoning behind their use of Geo-blocking. As there is with just about everything else, there are pros and cons to this practice. Some people are for it, believing it protects network servers from being hacked and destroyed by viruses and people from distributing sensitive information. Others feel that Geo-blocking is simply another form of government control.
Others simply do not care; they just want to watch Netflix outside US. However safe many governments believe this practice is, it is relatively unfair. To date, Netflix is the largest streaming video and television company on the web. But its viewing territory is rather small; only 41 countries can watch Netflix outside US, and most of those movies and shows are region specific. This map shows the current Netflix viewing area:
When you see this map, and you consider that as of 2010, there are approximately 46 “developed” countries in the world, this looks like a pretty big map. The problem here is this; there are more countries that are capable of receiving internet access thorough satellite transmission than what this map shows. Troops from the US, for instance, although in the deserts of the Middle East, are capable of receiving the internet.
They talk with their families through a VOIP. But watch Netflix? No way. And many countries, like Australia, for example, flat out refuse to grant access to Geo-blocked US and UK sites. Geo-Blocking is becoming a global problem. Every day we hear that we are a global society, and yet, we can’t all come together on a global issue like Geo-blocking Netflix? How can we solve other important issues like global hunger and poverty, tyrannical government regimes and disease pandemics, if we can’t all agree to allow streaming video, television shows, music and video calling across the globe?
Know the Law
Citing technological protection measures (TPM) or, more commonly known as region coding, Netflix, for example, uses Geo-blocking to prevent what they consider online piracy. International property laws make the practice of unblocking Netflix and other streaming sites a gray area. Online Piracy is cited because you are obtaining restricted content through stealthy means. But this is not illegal. Why not, you ask? Because true online pirating MUST BE DOWNLOADED, COPIED AND DISTRIBUTED FROM AN ILLEGAL FILE-SHARING SITE FOR USE OUTSIDE THE HOME (Section 101 of the US Federal Copyright Act).
The only exception to this is showing a movie for a class as part of the curriculum. Still, Netflix USA, Hulu, YouTube and others remain stalwart in their position of pirating laws. Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), Proxy site, or Domain Name System (DNS) to gain access to watch Netflix outside US, does not constitute technically constitute piracy. And since the use practice is not illegal, neither should using them to watch Netflix outside US be either. So, that being said, let’s take a look at those options and how to unblock Netflix outside US.
A few clever tricks
Virtual Private Network
The safest, fastest and surest way to unblock Netflix and others is through a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN allows the user (you) to access streaming video through a network of servers and routers that issue you an IP address from the country or region you wish to view, like the US.
This is accomplished through encrypted tunneling of your information. You have complete anonymity through a VPN. However, Hulu has presently taken measures to work around this by using a technology that recognizes anonymous IP addresses.
If, let’s say, you’re in Sweden and you want to watch American television on Hulu and you have a VPN, you may get a screen that basically tells you that they have detected you are trying to access their content through an anonymizing site and suggest that you disable that site if you are in the US, otherwise, no dice. Netflix, however, is still very accessible through a VPN. There are many pay by month VPN and free VPN sites available and VPNs work with many device including smart phones, and with several operating systems like Windows, Mac, and Android.
A Proxy server is a network of servers that act on your behalf instead of changing your IP address like a VPN does. Usually originating in the restricted country or region, when you access a proxy server from a Geo-blocked region, you are essentially telling the receiving server that you are from their country and you would like access to the content.
The receiving country only sees its host country’s IP address, not yours. However, be careful with Proxy servers. Your information is not encrypted with proxy servers so sending and receiving sensitive documents is not recommended. There are a few very promising Proxy services hitting the web today.
One of them, TOR, originally a US Naval Research Project, has been picked up by The Onion Router project. Another is the latest and most promising, Hola! Developed by an Israeli firm, Hola! is not quite a VPN and not quite a proxy. Hola! works via the use of browser plug-ins that utilize peer-to-peer interface.
In other words, instead of routing an IP address through a network of servers and routers, Hola! browser apps connect users to other users who also have the Hola! Windows client installed on their device. Rather ingenious. The best thing about this new service is that it is FREE, for now.
SmartDNS is another method to unblock Netflix outside US. Through a system of servers, the Smart DNS issues you an IP address from a non-restricted region in order for you to appear to be from that region. Although a little safer than a Proxy, SmartDNS comes with a small price tag.
Pricing aside, Smart DNS is a viable option for those who just want to unblock Netflix and other Geo-blocked sites. One Canadian firm is making headway using DNS configurations. Canadian Unblock-Us uses simplified arrangement of DNS configurations and Proxy servers that allow smooth flow of information without using a proxy.
While the battle wages and governments, corporations and citizens continue to fight over the right to Geo-blocked sites and content, many have created ingenious workarounds to unblock Netflix. Watching US-based Netflix movies and Netflix shows, as well as Hulu, does not need to be restricted.
So long as the movie or show is not downloaded, copied and shown for profit or distributed, there is no issue here. Streaming video is just that, a stream of data. It’s time we all come together to make this a true global community and stop Geo-blocking outside the US and the UK.