There are of course few sources of entertainment quite as popular as the media company – Netflix. It’s name has become synonymous with streaming video and entertainment, in fact in some demographics Netflix is becoming a verb. To Netflix, or ‘I just Netflix’d all night’ means that you simply chilled in front of the TV (or PC, laptop or phone) and relaxed. You’re never alone with a Netflix account although if you’ve ever travelled and tried to use it you’ve probably been somewhat shocked.
The reason is that although your Netflix account is meant to be a global one, what you can access is very dependent on your location. So if you’re an American travelling in say Japan and you login to your Netflix account – you’ll be greeted by the Japanese version of the media site. For some people it’s a pleasant surprise and you may find yourself with lots of new movies and TV shows, but generally for a US account holder it’s invariably a disappointment. Simply put, the American version of Netflix is way better than any other and it’s likely you’ll end up missing a lot of your favorite shows when logging in to another county’s variant.
How to Change Netflix Country
So what do you do if you’re stranded away from your preferred version of Netflix? Can you switch back to your favorite or are you stranded? Well fortunately there is a solution although it’s not quite as straight forward as it used to be.
Up until last year, you could easily just use something like a proxy or VPN server to switch to whatever version of Netflix you wanted. Literally millions of people did this and it basically meant you bounced you internet connection off a server in the country you wanted to pretend to be in. So if I sat in Japan and connected to a US based VPN server before I logged into Netflix, it would think I was in the US and I’d get the American version again.
Here’s the problem though, last year Netflix decided that it wouldn’t allow this and came up with a fairly dastardly plan to block people doing this. What they did decimated all the VPN/TV watching services over night – they blocked access to anyone who didn’t have a residential IP address. This unfortunately included 99% of all the addresses allocated to VPN servers and they all stopped working with Netflix.
A huge industry of bypassing the Netflix blocks and filters almost vanished overnight. It even blocked people who lived in countries where Netflix wasn’t deployed yet which was even worse because they lost access completely not just locked into their countries version.
Here’s the message you then got when you tried to access Netflix –
Fortunately the internet normally provides workarounds fairly quickly and now there are a few VPN services which will allow access to US Netflix again.
What they have had to do is buy up residential IP addresses to fool Netflix which will only allow these addresses through their filters. There are only a couple of companies how have managed to do this, simply because these addresses are normally only assigned by Internet service providers and can be difficult to find. So if you’re looking for a way to change Netflix country make sure you check or test this works before buying any long term subscription. Lots of companies have conveniently forgot to update their websites and many still claim they work with Netflix still but they don’t
Our friends at Identity Cloaker have upgraded their Network to include residential IP addresses but currently only support US and UK Netflix access – try out their 10 day trial to check for yourself. It’s all been working for nearly a year though so it should be fine. If you know of any others please post a comment to let others know.
We’ve covered a lot about the Netflix ban on VPNs and proxies on this site and how slowly it’s being circumvented. There are now a couple of VPNs that allow you to switch between the different version of Netflix irrespective of your location. Which for expats or people who travel a lot is incredibly useful, and means you can choose Netflix region free without being forceably routed to your local version. However there has been one thing missing, up until now no-one has released a Smart DNS system which will work with the new Netflix blocks.
Smart DNS is a relatively new technology which instead of routing your entire internet connection simply routes specific parts when you try and access region locked sites by using specially configured DNS server. For instance if you are in the US and tried to access the BBC iPlayer, the Smart DNS server would route part of your connection through a UK server in order to bypass the UK only region locks. It works very well and because all you need to do is change your DNS server settings is simpler to use on different devices than a VPN.
Here’s what you do on a Windows client, simply change your DNS servers to the Smart DNS server and if you have an active subscription you’ll be able to bypass most region blocks. That’s all you need to do and you could implement in the same way on any media device, smart TV, games console or phone as long as you could specify the DNS servers.
Except unfortunately Smart DNS Netflix was another casualty of the Netflix purge on VPNs and everyone of them stopped working. If you used one of these Smart DNS servers you would receive exactly the same error message as you would with a proxy as soon as you tried streaming anything. Most of the providers have given up trying to support Netflix, however finally I have found one provider who has fixed the problem and released a Smart DNS solution that works with Netflix!
It’s from a company who I haven’t used for a while but I know has been a Smart DNS/VPN solution provider for many years. The company is called Unblock-US and after a tip off that they were the first to create a DNS based solution that allows you to bypass the Netflix blocks I checked it out this week.
The setup screen is very simple to use – here it is
You basically sign up for an account, change your DNS servers and then select the version of Netflix you require. That’s all there is to it and then you visit Netflix you’ll be redirected to the region you selected. Of course most people will choose the US version which has more content than any other. However it’s useful to have access to the other locations as well because there are certain titles only available on certain regions. Netflix Canada for example has some great documentaries which are not available on any other regions.
I tried the US, Canadian and UK versions and all streamed perfectly. There is also a setting to disable which means you will go to the Netflix locale that you’re actually located in – which is useful for people who just want to use it when they are travelling.
If you’re quick Unblock-Us even has a free trial at the moment so you can test it out a real Free Smart DNS Netflix solution. You can access the trial through the link below.
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 one of the better VPN services 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 from a small European country.
The Netflix ban on these services 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 of the better VPN service which are still working, a small selection of VPN companies like Identity Cloaker have implemented servers with residential IP addresses to bypass the Netflix VPN block. You can also read about another firm which has managed to get a Smart DNS Netflix solution working too.
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 cunning, it’s sneaky and has caused much sadness among movie fans across the world, I’m referring to Netflix suddenly blocking virtually every single VPN and proxy service. Slowly it’s become harder and harder to find a reliable proxy service to access the wonders of USA Netflix and last month became pretty much impossible. However on the internet it’s very difficult to block everyone and when the secret is out, you’re back to square one.
How to Bypass the Netflix Block
Well first it’s important to understand the method, how does Netflix block VPNs is the question but also the solution too. In fact it’s actually not as sophisticated as you might have thought, but it’s definitely pretty effective.
Netflix had previously followed the standard route of big media company wanting to block people like you and me trying to get round their region locks so they could watch the best movies with their NETFLIX SUBSCRIPTION. This was a combination of picking out the high profile VPNs – the services who advertise on social media and PPC plus manual identification of IP addresses with multiple streams. It works to an extent but is very time consuming and the VPN/proxy services simply switch addresses when required so that it becomes a constant battle.
However instead of pursuing this tactic indefinitely, Netflix chose another option and decided to target the classification as well as the location of the IP address. They simply blocked all ‘commercial’ classified IP addresses – which meant that anyone using an address held by a commercial organisation would not be able to access Netflix wherever they happened to be.
So every standard residential IP address would be allowed through but all the addresses from commercial enterprises were blocked across the board. These included virtually every data center too so all the VPN suddenly stopped working almost overnight. The only addresses that now worked were the ones classified as residential which are mostly allocated through ISPs directly to home users.
For a VPN service to continue to work with Netflix in any capacity it needed access to these residential IP addresses. Without these addresses it is impossible to bypass the Netflix block at at all. Fortunately a couple of companies seem to have gained access to these and introduced them into their server infrastructure effectively regaining access – one of them is Identity Cloaker which has enabled UK and USA residential IP addresses for Netflix users only.
Surely it cannot be true! Is Netflix blocking VPNs and proxies? Are we doomed to be locked into our own crap region of Netflix or even worse are people outside the Netflix coverage locked out completely. Well the simple answer is yes, at the moment Netflix is investing a huge amount of time and resources in blocking not just proxies – they’re also blocking VPN services too!
It’s come as a bit of a shock for many, most people go through the following stages with most region locked content.
- Annoyance – tried to watch a show, video or broadcast online somewhere like YouTube, BBC or Netflix and got blocked.
- Research – learn about region locking and finding out that it’s simply based on the location of your IP address
- Solution – realising that if you hide your IP address by using a VPN or proxy will bypass all these blocks and let you watch whatever the hell you want!
Once you reach the last stage all those annoying blocks and filters simply disappear. You can watch anything from anywhere, irrespective of your location – for example I have sat in a Spanish bar watching the News on the BBC (UK IP address), then switched to an American IP to watch the US version of Netflix then watch some football on RTE (the Irish Broadcaster). Without a suitable VPN service none of these would be possible, for me it makes a massive difference to my viewing options.
Now over the years, many of these online broadcasters have made various attempts to thwart these efforts. In fact it would probably be safe to say the use of very simple proxy servers are now pretty much gone as far as bypassing region locking goes. There has been no such thing as a Netflix proxy that worked for many years, in fact the only major broadcaster who didn’t block proxies were the BBC but even they started doing this last year. The problem is that the use of a proxy can be detected very easily by all these sites which now makes them fairly useless.
No worries, for we still had VPN services, the virtual private network connections are encrypted and almost impossible to detect. Unfortunately these too started to suffer casualties and many broadcasters have waged a sort of half-hearted war on VPN servers too – individually blocking the addresses of popular ones which became too mainstream. It was never that bad though and usually you could just switch to another IP address and it would work fine.
Netflix have changed all this, they’ve really gone to war with VPN services and have actually managed to block 99% of them from working. You’ll hear many tales of woe from people who have VPN accounts set up simply to watch the US version of Netflix which no longer work. Netflix blocked VPN services every where, well very nearly all.
So how are Netflix blocking proxies and VPNs?
They have succeeded where many have failed by adopting a different tactic. Instead of trying to detect the VPN connections or individually identifying specific IP addresses, Netflix have focused on the origin of the VPN addresses. You see most IP addresses are grouped into two distinct groups –
- Commercial IP Addresses – assigned from data centers for websites and commercial servers.
- Residential IP addresses – assigned by ISPs to their customers from their internet accounts.
All the VPN and proxies came from the first category, so the VPNs all had commercial IP addresses. Netflix simply detected which group the connection was from and blocked all the commercial IP addresses whilst allowing the second category through. If you connected with a commercial IP address from a proxy or VPN to Netflix this is what you’d get this –
Suddenly almost overnight Netflix blocked VPNs, proxies and Smart DNS solutions from everywhere – they still couldn’t detect the presence of the technology – but they knew if the IP address was commercial. However there’s a solution in this video entitled Netflix Block VPN services.
Fortunately there is some hope, a couple of the most advanced VPN systems had already identified this cause and have made plans to rectify. Identity Cloaker is one of these and have introduced code to detect when the VPN is used to connect to Netflix, when it does it is relayed through a residential IP address which is allowed through. It works perfectly and should do for the foreseeable future, although the downside is that residential IP addresses like this are much more expensive so there may be some pressure on subscriptions.
Identity Cloaker is now one of the only VPN/Proxy services which is not blocked by Netflix. Try the trial here.
There are some wonderful media sites available in the US at the moment although there are some problems for many people who want to access them online. Many of them are now only available to cable subscribers and you need your subscription information to be able to use the site. However some are still available and one of the best sites is the AMC channel from AMC Networks.
Not only does the AMC site not require any login or subscriptions, it also carries some of the best TV shows from the last few years, including my all time favorite Zombie drama – The Walking Dead.
However there is one small issue for some people trying to watch the AMC site and that’s the fact that it is only accessible if you’re located in the USA. When you try and access any of the media files on the site, your IP address is checked to determine your location, if the address is outside the US then you can’t watch any of the shows at all.
Fortunately there is a solution and it’s quite a simple one – you just need to use a Fast USA proxy to hide your real location like this.
This works by relaying your internet connection through a proxy server based in the USA. Therefore when you connect to the AMC site, it will see the proxy address and not your real IP address. The video demonstrates how to use a software program called Identity Cloaker to route your connection through the US server.
It is important to use a fast server though as speed is crucial to being able to watch any media files online. Remember that the video stream has to be relayed through the proxy itself so if that server and it’s throughput is not very fast then you will experience high levels of latency and buffering if you try and watch video.
There are of course, lots of laws and legislation which concern hacking all over the world. In UK they have the Computer Misuse Act and the US has the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act both can lead to heavy penalties to your wallet and liberty. Although it’s quite interesting to see how those laws apply if you’re not an individual hacker operating alone but rather a Government security agency like GCHQ for instance.
Well we’ve had some clarification after a legal challenge raised by the campaigners Privacy International who have claimed GCHQ have overstepped the mark with their internet operations which are effectively breaking European law. The case has been raised in response to the numerous revelations by Edward Snowden concerning state sponsored spying conducted by the US and UK Governments.
During the hearings, which were held by the Investigatory Powers tribunal (IPT), we heard for the first time an admission by GCHQ that they did hack computers, phones and other devices located in the UK and abroad. It’s no great surprise of course, the previous responses consisted of we are not able to ‘confirm or deny’, but it felt like progress that at least an admission was made.
There is a real worry that the countries who have the most effective and extensive privacy protection laws, are actually ignoring their own legislation when it comes down to ‘security agencies’. Many people who live in undemocratic countries with a surveillance culture will even buy a proxy to route their information through the UK or USA.
Unfortunately rather than ruling against GCHQ they actually have approved their behaviour presumably including the siphoning of huge amounts of private individuals data. The IPT ruled that the the security agencies conduct was lawful and proportionate. It also looked at the new code of practice for hacking or it’s legal description – ‘equipment interference’ published by the Home Office and deemed this a suitable operating policy.
It all seems rather establishment condoning the behaviour of another part of the establishment, although the panel of senior judges was supposed to be independant.
Privacy International who were backed by seven ISPs were understandably disappointed by the ruling and said that they would continue to challenge ‘state sponsored hacking’ attempts in order to protect democratic and principles of human rights.
The whole affair seems doomed to failure, the judges quickly siding with the government, the working guidelines which were deemed unnecessary before the spying revelations of the whistleblower Snowden. The way these guidelines were instantly rubber stamped by the same group of ‘senior judges’ is extremely convenient and certainly don’t legitimize most of the hacking conducted by GCHQ.
State condoned hacking on a wide scale is sinister and anti democratic, it also undermines computers and the internet much the same way that bugging every telephone would the phone system. For people concerned about their privacy and security, who invest in security products, it is perhaps best now to look away from using a British VPN and perhaps look at one based in a more democratic society instead.
Many companies who operate on the internet operate an economic technique called price discrimination. This is a way where companies can sell the same goods and services for different prices in order to maximise profits rather than sell at a single price to everyone. The concept follows the idea that different people will pay different amounts for the same product.
The internet initially looked like it would change this, price discrimination relies on separating markets in order to charge different amounts. When anyone can buy from anywhere in the world the barriers seemed to fall especially for services and low weight items which can be easily distributed. Why buy something for £100 from a UK based site when it’s available from a French site for half the price, the web threatened to smash down these barriers.
Alas this didn’t last long, and in some cases the internet has made things worse with global companies setting up localised versions of their sites (and prices) using a technology called geo-location. This is quite a simple technology which looks up your physical location based on the internet address (IP) that is assigned to you by your ISP (Internet service provider). Using this technology people are redirected or even blocked based on their location, so connect from France and you get a French version of a site, from USA you’ll get a US version and so on – the idea that different prices and services can be supplied based on what the local market will support.
This behaviour is now pretty pervasive with almost all internet retailers operating to some extent. Login and check an air fare price for example you’ll probably get offered a different fare depending on where you are physically for the same flight. This of course makes it essential that you can get some sort of control back unless you want to be paying top prices for everything you buy online. To do this is fortunately very straight forward – simply use proxies to change your IP address. Here’s how you can use an English proxy – just here, to switch your location to the UK.
So whilst connected to this service you can choose out of about twenty countries to route your connection through. Use a British server and you’ll have a British IP address, an American service will give you a US IP address and so on. Using this you can check out the prices of all sorts of site based on different physical locations.
For example I always use this to watch the BBC from Ireland but I recently wanted to book a city break for my family. Funnily enough I got completely different prices for flights based on an Irish address to a British address despite the flights being identical in every sense. Unsurprisingly I have found that generally my standard UK address gives me a much worse deal than a French or American on for some reason.
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.
It’s finally happened, after years of apparent indifference to the millions of ‘unofficial’ viewers, BBC iPlayer is now blocking VPN services that are being used to watch the BBC from outside the UK. To recap, since the demise of the BBC International service the only way to watch the BBC from non-UK locations is to use a proxy or VPN to hide your real location.
What happens is that when you access the BBC website it looks up the location of your IP address, if it’s in the UK then everything works – if not then you get another version of the site with no live programmes and no BBC iPlayer. Fortunately it’s not that difficult to bypass these blocks, all you need (or needed) to do was to connect using an intermediate server which was based in the UK. This would make it appear that you were in the UK and hence everything would work fine. The BBC would assume that the IP address of the VPN server was yours and then allow you access, as long as the VPN server was in the UK.
Over the years many different media services have waged war on these services. Proxies were the first to fall, almost all the big online media companies now block access through a proxy server automatically – although they still worked with the BBC iPlayer until this last update. Companies like Netflix and Hulu were particularly aggressive in blocking VPNs – also their legal departments were targeting the companies who openly marketed these services. The BBC however didn’t really seem that concerned occasionally closing down the odd provider but doing little technically to block these services.
How is BBC iPlayer Blocking VPN Services ?
At the moment it’s fairly simplistic, but you might have discovered very effective -simply blocking the IP addresses of these services. All they need to do is to identify which IP addresses are being used by multiple users and block them from accessing the content. It’s not difficult to do, although it also will block legitimate UK users who use a VPN for security too.
Once the IP address of a VPN service is blocked it becomes useless for accessing any of the BBC iPlayer or live streaming programmes. Most of the biggest and widely marketed VPN services have been affected – my IpVanish account suffered the block although apparently they are working on a fix. Ultimately it can turn into a game of ‘Whack a Mole’ with IP addresses being continually changed and then blocked by the BBC – usually someone gives up in the end. Fortunately my Identity Cloaker account still works perfectly which is probably largely due to the fact that the number of users per IP address is limited and the company is very low key in advertising the TV watching functionality.
Ultimately the best advice is to avoid any VPN company who openly markets themselves as a BBC iPLayer VPN service, these will definitely be prioritized and worse may be closed down completely. It has happened in the past and is relatively easy to achieve – usually a legal threat against the hosting companies does the trick. It is unlikely that the BBC would be able to block access completely, simply because they would have to be constantly updating it’s firewall tables with new IP addresses to keep up.