It was always quite an anomaly, for several years before Netflix was actually available in Australia – there were over a quarter of a million registered users there. If you tried to access any version of Netflix there, you’d be blocked and told that it wasn’t available there yet. So how come there were hundreds of thousands of Aussie subscribers? Well the simple fact was that all these people got fed up of waiting for Netflix and simply used a VPN usually located in the USA.
The idea was, you start your VPN service first and connect through to a US based VPN server and then you’d be able to access the US version of Netflix using your subscriber account. Of course, Netflix knew about this – suddenly hundreds of thousands of accounts were created using Aussie based bank accounts and credit cards – but they still paid for the service so nobody really minded much. The same trick was used by millions across the world – either to access Netflix from somewhere it wasn’t launched in or to access a different locale version – until the Netflix VPN ban hit the world, when they banned all VPNs from everywhere!
The Netflix VPN Ban – Why and How?
So why did Netflix take such a draconian measure after all people weren’t stealing the service, they still paid for a valid subscription simply accessed from another country? The problem lies with the ways that licensing works, all the non-Netflix movies, TV shows and documentaries are individually licensed on a per country basis. So Netflix may have the license to broadcast a particular movie in the US but not in Europe so they have to segregate their services.
Unfortunately this means that the smaller countries often have vastly inferior versions of Netflix despite the subscription being the same worldwide. The companies who own the broadcast rights got fed up with people in different countries simply using a VPN or proxy to bypass these licensing issues and put some pretty heavy pressure on Netflix to block access.
This they have done, now nearly every VPN and proxy service has been blocked from accessing the Netflix service. They instigated a global block on accessing their servers using commercial IP addresses which included 99.9% of all the VPN services – suddenly everyone had to go back to their own regional version of Netflix. Which was ok if you are in the US which has a fantastic selection but not so much if you were perhaps an ex-pat accessing in a small European country.
The Netflix VPN ban was incredibly effective and perhaps shows a model for region locking which other companies may follow. Previously people like the BBC had tried to block VPN services by individually identifying their IP addresses but it never worked for long as they simply be swapped out.
There are still some services working, a small selection of VPN companies like Identity Cloaker have implemented servers with residential IP addresses to bypass the Netflix VPN block. Most though have simply given up as these addresses are much more expensive and harder to obtain unless you are a registered ISP. So if you want to access a different version of Netflix you should ask your provider if their service still works with Netflix as the majority don’t.
It’s almost essential nowadays to have access to a VPN or proxy service, not just for the security concerns but because the internet has become a minefield of blocked sites, copyright issues and geo-inspired redirections. A few years ago, you were rarely blocked from any website but now it’s a daily occurrence and if you live outside Europe or North America it can be even worse.
Now there are lots of reasons for these blocks but most of them revolve around copyright and profit maximisation. Sometimes that video or movie is only licensed in a specific country so cannot be broadcast to other locations – a ridiculous notion in the concept of a global network like the internet. However there is an important proposal being tabled by the European Union that could change the way that digital products are sold and distributed across the world.
Basically it is proposing a ruling that ensures the portability of digital products in line with one of the EU’s fundamental ideals of a single market. What that means is that if you buy a service anywhere in Europe you should be able to access your purchase from anywhere. This is clearly not the case at the moment, even to the extent that a British License fee payer loses access to the iPlayer the minute they leave the confines of the UK. They are not alone and virtually every global media service blocks and restricts access based on locations.
This would be fantastic for the consumer and no longer would we need to use a plethora of proxies to access content online. It does get ridiculous sometimes, when you switch from a US VPN like this one minute in order to watch NBC and then to a UK one to watch the BBC. Some days I switch IP addresses a dozen times to avoid various blocks especially if I visit the Far East It’s also getting worse with the BBC who were reasonably relaxed about these circumvention techniques now starting to target and block VPNs in order to maximise their commercial revenue from the new BBC Store.
It’s frustrating to see a service like Netflix delivering vastly different products dependent on your location – the US version of Netflix has thousands more films than most other country variants. Obviously the Media companies are less than impressed mainly because it restricts the level at which they can leverage different markets to maximise their profits. One comment from the leaders of a TV and media lobby –
“Any intervention that undermines the ability to license on an exclusive territorial basis will lead to less investment in new products and reduce the quality and range of content available to consumers.”
John McVay – CE of TV Producers Organisation Pact
There is plenty of opposition from other media organisations of course and whether any proposals can withstand the lobbying remains to be seen. It is still unclear if the changes would permeate to the USA but in all it could be significant change in the way we access digital products and services.
A new surveillance bill giving much stronger powers to various security agencies will be introduced by Theresa May next month. November 4th will see the release of the new Investigatory Powers Bill which will force telecoms and internet service providers to retain their customers web browsing for 12 months. To blunt the complaints from the ISPs, they will be paid to cover the extra costs involved in storing and handling all this data.
The access to this sensitive data will only be granted to police, intelligence agencies, National Crime agency and the HM Revenues and Customs. So in reality it means thousands of people with links to any of these agencies will potentially be able to see what you were doing online over the last year.
The measures are fairly similar to the previous Communications Data Bill(popularly known as the Snoopers Charter) which was blocked by the Liberal Democrats. Again the new bill is far reaching and covering pretty much all web activities from email to web browsing and even Facebook and Twitter. It sounds like there will be no exceptions and all platforms and everyone of us will be included.
Remember they are just proposals.
The justification is of course fairly predictable, terrorism, espionage and criminality. The ISPs are being paid not only to retain your emails, internet usage and other electronic communication but also to organise it and make it easily searchable to the various agencies.
There are of course many people who feel this is an unjustified invasion of privacy – here’s few of my objections.
- You only spy on the innocent – people who have something to hide can and do encrypt their communications which won’t be accessible.
- Can Governments be trusted with this huge and very personal data – I suggest not.
- Is is justifiable to spy on millions of innocent in the small chance they’ll catch the odd ‘stupid’ criminal or terrorist.
- Edward Snowden has shown us that security agencies have completely ignored privacy laws to this point, how can we trust them.
There are approximately 10 million Twitter users in Turkey but many are reporting bad news. It appears that the social networking site popular across the word has been blocked to many Turkish based users by the country’s telecommunication’s regulator. It’s not quite clear whether this ban has been implemented completely but certainly many users are reporting being redirected towards a warning page when trying to access Twitter.
Here’s the message one mobile phone user got when trying to reach the site.
Twitter and indeed other social networking sites have of course been banned before in Turkey, YouTube was offline for about 2 years before the block was lifted. This time the Turkish Government have been more up front about the ban with the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan vowing to ‘wipe out Twitter’.
He is quoted as saying
“I don’t care what the international community says at all. Everyone will see the power of the Turkish Republic,”
The reason is very probably linked to numerous documents being posted reportedly showing evidence of the widespread corruption relating to the Prime Minister. There have been numerous allegations including recordings of telephone conversations where the prime minister discusses where to hide various huge amounts of money so investigations can’t find them.
Mr Erdogan is of course citing other reasons and legal issues but the reality is very plain to the majority of people and all the Turks I have spoken. Corruption is rife among the upper echelons of the Turkish Government and Twitter is allowing people to speak about it – hardly surprising it’s being banned.
Of course it’s utterly futile and in many senses only serves as an admission of guilt in many people’s eyes. The ban will be circumvented and there are a myriad other ways that any information can be circulated just as quickly, blocking Twitter is just plain stupid.
If you need some help getting into the site then just use a program like Identity Cloaker illustrated here which will bypass all the Turkish web sites blocks quickly and easily. If you want to try it first the demonstration version of Identity Cloaker is available free here for download actually allows access to Twitter so you could use this version for free to access the site and a few others.
At the moment the press is full of the stories of cyber spying, surveillance and the NSA whistleblower – William Binney. Fair play to the man, it takes courage to stand up against the NSA but he’s definitely not the first. This particular organisation have been spying on our internet traffic for years and the huge spying complex being completed in Utah is merely the centralization of a spying network which has been up and running for many years. I am of course referring to the infamous Room 641A in San Francisco which was brought to the public attention by another brave whistle blower – Mark Klein.
Mark Klein was a contractor like William Binney working in AT&Ts switching center – a major part of the US internet backbone, when he became aware of a particular room in this building run by the NSA. Room 641A had been set up as a network tap, with effectively all the internet traffic that passed through this center being copied and routed into this room.
Inside the high security of this room sat a device called the Narus STA 6400 – a device capable of intercepting and analysing huge amounts of network traffic. No prizes for guessing what was going on here then! Mark Klein, gathered some proof together and exposed the room and it’s function to the world, leading to a court case brought by the EFF.
William Binney has brought the story up to date, and demonstrates that the NSA have never really stopped gathering this data. Here’s the story from Democracy Now – (edited ‘cos they deserve a link!)
The reality is that this new facility is no real secret, nor the methods being utilized by the world’s security organisations. There were lots of ‘Room 641As’ all across the US and indeed the world, capturing, logging and storing details of all the network traffic on the planet. It was always going to happen anyway, at least while we used an open, distributed and shared network like the internet to communicate.
The Mark Klein episode was nearly a decade ago now, and obviously just rooms are not quite enough nowadays. There’s lots of talk about legality, permission and here in the UK the Foreign Minister insisting that legal due process is always followed. The reality is that it’s much, much easier for a security organisation to capture all traffic – emails, web browsing, phone calls, search enquiries and everything else than it is to selectively capture the communications of individual suspects. Far simpler to dump the whole lot into huge databases and then data mine, or search for the information you require. If they could somehow just harvest ‘terrorist related data’ then I’m sure nobody would mind very much but they can’t. The data is ours –
this data is your web history, your emails, your search history – what you do online – at anytime from anywhere.
Had a few drinks? Watched Zero Dark 30? Then proceeded to flounder around the web using lots of ‘terrorist keywords’ . Well it doesn’t matter if you’re a kitchen fitter from Manchester – you’ll raise a few flags on a database somewhere…..and it could very well be via PRISM and the NSA, who might mention it to GCHQ!
Anyone who would believe that all this data would sit untouched, unmonitored and unanalysed until it’s needed is I’m afraid sadly deluded. Effectively we’re all turned into suspects – the PRISM project and the huge UTAH surveillance center changes nothing except perhaps the efficiency and scope.
So that’s it, all semblances of privacy whilst using any form of electronic communication gone. Millions of people’s privacy waved aside on the chance of catching the odd terrorist now and again. Of course there is another issue there, there are ways of keeping your privacy even now such as using a VPN. The methods of using security products, VPNs, false IP addresses and encryption can ensure that your data is not accessible by these broad sweeping exercises. Of course this is what the terrorists will do, at least the ones with a half a brain cell between them.
Which leads to the conclusion that the NSA will most only be snooping on the innocent….
I’m not sure of everyone else but when I hear that someone has been convicted of blasphemy, I instantly think it refers to the medieval ages or at least a long time ago. However this latest news story refers to a composer and pianist who has been convicted of blasphemy by a supposedly secular Turkish court.
The court has convicted the pianist and composer – Fazil Say of blasphemy and inciting hatred, for a series of Tweets that he made last year. The ten month sentence has been suspended however any similar offence would mean he’d be imprisoned, in a Turkish prison.
So what did he say ?
Well one message he tweeted a verse from a Persian poet called Omar Khayyam which attacks the pious and their hypocrisy. I’m not sure if anything happened to Omar but it sounds like 11th Century Persia was a little bit open minded about free speech than present day Turkey.
Other tweets made fun of certain religious practices and in particular teasing people about the Muezzin (the Muslim call to to prayer). All this apparently amounts to blasphemy in the country that was once a beacon for secular rule and free speech in the Muslim world.
Of course the fact that Fazil Say had been openly critical of the ruling party and the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, may have something to do with this ridiculous ruling. Other artists and intellectuals are increasing being targeted for any criticisms voiced in public.
Turkey is a wonderful country, however the ideals set out by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk seem to be slowly losing their importance in this country.
I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea. He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government; it is as if he would catch his people in a trap. My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will; every man can follow his own conscience, provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him against the liberty of his fellow-men.
Many organisations have expressed concern, including the European Union. The EU Foreign Policy chief suggested that Turkey must respect the principle of freedom of speech. Fazil Say has not commented much yet, other than to express his disappointment at the ruling. He has suggested previously that he would leave the country if convicted, which of course as an International star he is able to do.
I know lots of Turkish people and have family there, this decision will not be popular. Turkish people are relaxed, fair minded and value freedom of expression as much as anyone. But the sad reality is that slowly Turkey becoming a society where people are scared to speak their mind. Slowly the internet is becoming more and more filtered in Turkey mainly due to pressure from religious groups. If you want to surf the internet without Government filters and controls you will already need to use something like a USA proxy server or similar.