Can Netflix really ban proxies and VPNs?

Netflix has announced that they are going to crack down on access via VPN and proxies to their US content.

In NZ Netflix is nobbled and you can only get full service if you use a VPN or a proxy service. Some people are overreacting to the news, one being lifestyle and travel blogger David Farrar who has stated on Facebook that he has already cancelled his Netflix subscription before the alleged bans have even come into existence.

But can Netflix actually do what they say they are going do?

Experts argue that any total shutdown would be impossible.

“It’s kind of a cat and mouse game,” InternetNZ CEO Jordan Carter said.

“Each step that Netflix or other content providers take to the block things, the companies that make money by selling unblocking services will find a way around it.”

“It turns this into an arms race.”    

Essentially – Netflix can block a single VPN or proxy server’s IP address easily, but those services can change their own address just as readily. Netflix product manager Neil Hunt acknowledged the futility of such efforts as recently as this month, saying it was “trivial” for services to evade any blacklist.

Even if they manage to shut down whole services others are likely to replace them in a matter of days. The services that charge money for VPN access have a clear motive to get around any Netflix restriction, as their entire business model is built on giving user’s access.

Meanwhile, Netflix’s profits aren’t directly harmed at all by users geo-dodging – in fact they may be increased. As such, the VPNs are likely to put a lot more effort into getting around the blocks than Netflix will put into creating them.

One left-field argument holds that Netflix are only cracking down on VPNs as part of a grand strategy to enter the massive Chinese market – if the elites can’t access it on the sly, maybe they will have to let the masses in.

Netflix will be aware that blocking the savviest of users is impossible, but that isn’t so bad. If they can make it hard – hard enough that most users give up on it – then they will have a clear victory.

I won’t be cancelling. I’ll wait and see if they manage to block it first, then I’ll find a way around it, or someone else will find a way around it. It won’t be hard.

One of the avenues Netflix could pursue is decidedly less technical – they could just take a look at your credit card.

Most Kiwi Netflix customers will be using an identifiably New Zealand based credit or debit card to pay for the service.

Currently, this is no barrier to accessing content – meaning your New Zealand Netflix account can watch American content when you are travelling in the US, or using a service to look like you are.

Sorting out a US credit card to pay for the service is possible, but fairly difficult for most people.

You can use a payment service that mimics a US credit card. I found that out the other day when wanting access to another service that required a US credit card.

Yet Carter doubts Netflix will take this path, as they made no mention of it in the blog post.

“When people buy access to these services they don’t want them to stop when they get off a plane.”

Echoing a point many online have made, Carter argues that geo-dodging is superior to the alternative that some may default to – piracy.

“We should be celebrating the fact that people are trying to pay for this content,” he said.

“It’s better that people pay, even if it’s not quite in the specific market segmentation they want.”

That is the point here…in fact, by paying for Netflix and the studios charging Sky etc they are in fact getting paid twice for the same content…double dipping…and this is a problem why?

What is really at play here is the squealing of providers, like Sky, who paid for rights but never delivered or delivered poor service and who are being sidelined. Yet again we are seeing strong arms protecting legacy and failing business models.

 

– Fairfax


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