uNoGS Shows VPNs That Can Still Bypass Netflix Geoblocks

The excitement of Netflix expanding into 190 countries worldwide has sadly been tempered by the news that the video-on-demand platform has started restricting VPN “pirates” from bypassing geographical locks to access more content, especially since Netflix’ international catalogue pales in comparison to that of the US, the preferred region for VPN users.

However, a new site has sprung up that not only allows users to search for Netflix content across the globe, revealing exactly where a film, TV show, or documentary is available, but also informs you of which VPN works to access a particular region or country. uNoGS, or unofficial Netflix online Global Search lets you search for content by title, Netflix rating, IMDB rating, year, genre, actor, and even audio options and subtitles. A dropdown menu on selected content will then let you see if your VPN will allow you to view it.

For example, I was delighted to find that I could watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on the US Netflix from the UK using my preferred VPN, Private Internet Access:

“uNoGS is very much a one man show juggled as a hobby between work and family life. I initially built the site just for myself because the few sites that were providing a service like this were extremely limited in terms of search functionality,” Brian, the operator of uNoGS, told TorrentFreak. “I wanted to be able to see what was available in every country, when it was added, when it was supposed to expire and when it actually expired. Once I completed the initial build for myself I decided to share it with everyone and uNoGS went live in early May 2015.”

The surge in interest in uNoGS since being featured on TorrentFreak, though, means that the website is rather slow at present.

US Military Personnel Rail Against Netflix VPN Block

Netflix has faced a furious backlash from users since it initiated its new program to prevent users from accessing geoblocked content using VPNs. Amongst this, one the forgotten victims of the VPN ban are military personnel serving abroad. Stars and Stripes reports that US servicemen and women will be left without one of their few comforts because of Netflix’s VPN block.

While Netflix is aware that military personnel use VPNs to access US content when stationed in foreign bases – “Netflix always exempts U.S. military bases around the world,” Anne Marie Squeo, a spokeswoman for Netflix, said. “They will still be able to access the U.S. catalog.” – there are a great number of servicemembers abroad that don’t live on-base.

“For me Netflix is a way of being home. It boosts your morale by letting you watch the things you would be able to see at home,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Shaundell Wright, a quartermaster with Yokosuka Navy Base’s Port Operations Dispatch, said. “We are already in a foreign country and everything is so different. So, to be able to watch Netflix feels good.”

Accessibility to more countries around the world is great, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse Fowler, a hospital corpsman, added, “but I’m mad if I can’t change where my Internet is so I can’t watch my own shows.”

“My VPN hasn’t been blocked,” Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Cutright, a Navy counselor, agreed. “But if it does, I will be pissed. Netflix Bahrain is trash.”

It remains to be seen if Netflix will take its VPN ban seriously, or whether the move is simply a gesture to placate content providers that are concerned about regional licensing agreements being violated.

EU Proposal Could Ban Geoblocking Across Europe

Following the news that Netflix has begun restricting VPN use to bypass its region locks, the UK government has initiated a public consultation regarding European Union proposals to outlaw all forms of geoblocking across all member states.

“The European Commission has recently published draft legislation that is intended to ensure that all digital services are portable within the European Union,” the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) consultation file on “cross-border portability” legislation reads [PDF]. “This would mean that a person who lives in the UK, and who subscribes to a digital content service there, would be able to be confident they can continue to access that service when they are elsewhere in the EU, provided they have the right level of internet connection.”

The IPO report suggests that the UK fully supports the EU proposal, saying, “The Government supports cross-border portability, and the Prime Minister welcomed these proposals on the day of their launch. We will now be working with other European partners to negotiate the detail of the Regulations so that they deliver the best outcome for businesses and consumers.”

How this proposal will affect the licensing deals negotiated by video-on-demand streaming services, such as Netflix, is yet to be determined.  “It is currently difficult to provide portability for some types of content because of territorial copyright agreements which govern where services can be accessed,” the IPO report adds.

The EU’s proposal to outlaw geoblocking follows its recent antitrust investigation into content providers restricting its content dependent on location within Europe.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Australian Netflix Users Threaten to Cancel Accounts over VPN Crackdown

Following the announcement by Netflix that it will begin cracking down on VPN ‘piracy’ to bypass geoblocked content, a number of Australian users have threatened to cancel their accounts with the video-on-demand platform, citing sub-standard native content, news.com.au reports.

Others argue that the move, in the absence of legitimate options, will only encourage illegal downloading:

https://twitter.com/SpaceCrazy/status/685873122260705280

While Netflix’s original shows – including the likes of House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Narcos – is available in all territories, independent of its geographical locks, it marks only a small fraction of the company’s content, much of which is tied to regional licensing agreements.

“If all of our content were globally available, there wouldn’t be a reason for members to use proxies or “unblockers” to fool our systems into thinking they’re in a different country than they’re actually in,” David Fullagar, Vice President of Content Delivery Architecture at Netflix, wrote in his announcement of the VPN crackdown. “We are making progress in licensing content across the world and, as of last week, now offer the Netflix service in 190 countries, but we have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere.”

“We are delivering Netflix to 190 countries around the world. Our diverse slate of Originals and licensed programming should provide a service members find valuable no matter where they’re watching,” a Netflix spokesman told news.com.au. “As we continue to strive towards licencing content on a global scale, along with our slate of originals which launch globally simultaneously, the use of VPNs will become redundant.”

Netflix Debates Geoblocking and VPN Use

Following its global rollout to over 130 countries, Netflix has been discussing the reality of its users bypassing geoblocked content via VPN services, admitting that it’s “not obvious” how to prevent it, The Globe and Mail reports. The technique of using VPNs, proxies, and DNS spoofers to access Netflix content in other countries has become widespread, especially in territories like Canada, citizens of which have access to only limited Netflix TV and movies, for which Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer for Netflix, blames “sliced and diced” territorial rights deals.

“Our ambition is to do global licensing and global originals, so that over maybe the next five, 10, 20 years, it’ll become more and more similar until it’s not different,” Neil Hunt, Netflix’s Chief Product Officer, during CES 2016 in Las Vegas last week. “We don’t buy only for Canada; we’re looking … for all territories; buying a singular territory is not very interesting anymore.”

Netflix in Canada also has to deal with cable providers such as Bell Media, which ‘protects’ its content to a fault, with CEO Mary Ann Turcke shopping her own daughter for bypassing Netflix’s geoblocking with a VPN, accusing her of “stealing”.

“We do apply industry standard technologies to limit the use of proxies,” Hunt added. “Since the goal of the proxy guys is to hide the source it’s not obvious how to make that work well. It’s likely to always be a cat-and-mouse game. [We] continue to rely on blacklists of VPN exit points maintained by companies that make it their job. Once [VPN providers] are on the blacklist, it’s trivial for them to move to a new IP address and evade.”

Netflix, however, hopes that users bypassing its geoblocks will become a thing of the past with global licensing deals. “When we have global rights, there’s a significant reduction in piracy pressure on that content. If a major title goes out in the U.S. but not in Europe, it’s definitely pirated in Europe, much more than it is if it’s released simultaneously,” Hunt said.

BBC iPlayer is Now Blocking UK VPN Services

The BBC has decided to restrict access to its iPlayer service if you’re using a VPN in the UK for legitimate privacy concerns. Despite the BBC’s bizarre reasoning, there are many legitimate circumstances where a VPN is essential especially in the modern age of data collection. A BBC spokesperson told TorrentFreak:

“We regularly make updates to our technology to help prevent access to BBC iPlayer from outside the UK which breaks our terms of use,” 

“BBC iPlayer is freely available to users across the UK without a VPN, and we also seek to ensure users of private VPNs such as those used by schools and companies in the UK have access.”

The broadcaster is now sending out e-mails in regards to disgruntled customers which reads:

“You have reported that your IP address is incorrectly being recognised as outside of the UK when using BBC iPlayer. However we cannot support users using VPN networks as we cannot be confident of the location of the end user. This is because our database will give us the location of the associated VPN or proxy server, rather than of the actual end user. For this reason our Geo IP database will block access to UK-restricted content.”

In the UK, residents are required by law to purchase a license fee to access traditional television broadcasts and the iPlayer streaming service. Many argue this is an outdated notion and the BBC is under extreme pressure to try to offer the taxpayer value-for-money. Putting the politics aside, the BBC is consistently displaying messages on the iPlayer service informing users that they need a TV license to continue viewing. This kind of messaging is similar to purchasing a DVD which contains copyright disclaimers before you can watch the film.

As a result, the BBC has to be very careful not to frustrate the viewing audience and create a poor user experience. Companies need to realize that the internet has no borders, and blocking can often lead to people engaging in piracy.

EU Commisioner Wants to Abolish Geoblocking

Geoblocking of content is still one of the biggest issues when it comes to obtaining your media legally. You want to pay for it, but you’re not allowed to and everyone loses out.

Europe’s Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, thinks so too and calls it discrimination rather than an issue of marketing. If people want to pay for content, they should be able to regardless where they live.

“In the offline world, this would be called discrimination. In the online world, it happens every day,” Ansip said. “I want to pay – but I am not allowed to. I lose out, they lose out.”

Geblocking is used by almost all big streaming sites from the BBC iPlayer over Amazon Instant Video to YouTube and Netflix, a big problem for users and one of the most common reasons why people pirate software and media in the first place.

“How can this be a good thing? We put up with the situation because there is not much alternative. Now it is time to do something about it,” Ansip added. “There should be no exceptions. Everyone should be treated the same. This is a key principle that underpins everything we want to achieve.”

The EU is currently discussing how copyright legislation in Europe should be overhauled and Andrus Ansip hopes that measures against geoblocking will be part of the new rules, and so do I.

Thanks to TorrentFreak for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of cinecliq