Netflix has reportedly begun testing restrictions to the access of geo-locked content, with some Australian subscribers claiming they received warning messages preventing access.
Earlier this year, a senior representative with the streaming service indicated there were plans to crack down on users accessing US content from outside the country.
Although one Australian domain name system (DNS) reported some users were having issues accessing geo-blocked content on Thursday, so far any move by Netflix does not seem to be widespread.
“Some users are starting to have issues with Netflix blocking non-Australian content when going through uFlix,” Melbourne-based DNS service uFlix said in a statement on their website.
“Though it is only affecting a few users at the moment, we expect this number to grow.”
Just to clear a few details. We never stated Netflix sent out letters to their customers. We said that a warning comes on when streaming 🙂
— uFlix (@uFlixDNS) January 21, 2016
But it will happen, according to Content Delivery Architecture vice-president David Fullagar.
In a blog post on January 14, he indicated “in coming weeks” the streaming service would begin targeting proxies or unblockers that aim to “fool” their systems.
“This technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it,” Mr Fullagar said.
“That means in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are.”
In Australia the content on offer was fairly limited, which led some users to get around geographic restrictions by tricking Netflix’s systems into thinking they were actually based in another country, like the United States, where there was a vast library of content available.
Stopping this practice was a mission previously pursued by other streaming service operators, like HBO and the BBC, with a fair measure of success.
The move was a backflip on earlier disinterest from Netflix to pursue it, leading some to question their motives.
It was likely the company was trying to strike a balance between honouring content licences and keeping users happy. Additionally, in Australia other companies, like Foxtel, held the rights to some content.
“For now, given the historic practice of licensing content by geographic territories, the TV shows and movies we offer differ, to varying degrees, by territory,” Mr Fullagar said.
“In the meantime, we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location.”
‘Avoiding geo-blocks can’t be stopped’
Netflix would not be able to completely shut down the use of virtual private networks (VPN) or DNS, according to one software expert.
“I think they could make it uncomfortable enough, or reduce the service quality to the point that people give up, [but] they can’t stop it completely, no,” University of WA centre for software practice director David Glance told The New Daily.
But it would be a timely and expensive game of cat-and-mouse.
“Essentially what will happen is Netflix will try to block a specific IP address from the VPN providers they know about and the VPN providers will then keep changing their addresses to get around that and it becomes a game of who can do that faster. So it really depends which VPN provider you are with and how quickly Netflix responds,” Dr Glance said.
“It is not tough to knock someone off temporarily … there would be a known list of VPN addresses that people can keep updating.”
Another way consumers were avoiding the geo-block was by setting up their own personal VPN.
Netflix’s efforts would make the process “more difficult and time-consuming”, Swinburne University of Technology senior research fellow Ramon Lobato said.
“The VPN and proxy providers act quickly when customers report blockage, and the game of whack-a-mole continues,” he told The New Daily.
“The real game here is deterrence, not hard crackdown.”