For Netflix, Discontent Over Blocked VPNs Is Boiling
In January, Netflix announced it would begin blocking a popular tech workaround known as a VPN, or virtual private network, that allowed customers beyond the US to access the same shows and films as American audiences. But as Netflix has aggressively pursued an ever-bigger global audience, simmering unhappiness over the ban is reaching a boil. An online petition demanding that Netflix change its policy has more than 36,000 signatures. And a new survey reveals that the crackdown may lead to piracy.
For years, paying Netflix subscribers abroad have used VPN proxies to disguise their location to access more content. There aren’t any reliable estimates of how many Netflix subscribers use VPNs, but VPN services say they have massive user bases, in a few cases specifically for accessing Netflix. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has said the company does not expect the block will impact subscriber numbers. But even if they don’t leave Netflix, VPN users aren’t happy.
“A massive number of people are affected,” says Jordan Fried, the CEO of Buffered VPN, in an email. He claims to have found a tech fix to get around Netflix’s block. “We are in touch with hundreds of people daily about the VPN block. Many of our users are coming to us from other VPN providers who no longer work.”
For Netflix, the issue is a fragile one. The company, after all, is dependent on studios and networks for much of the content that it streams on its platform. The crackdown is a way to show Hollywood studios that Netflix respects its regional licensing agreements—in essence, that it will only let people who it’s paid to let see certain shows and movies see them.
— Mark (@mdluk199) January 15, 2016
But paying Netflix subscribers don’t care what, say, Sony or the CW want: they want (and expect) to see what they want to see. They also want to be able to use a VPN for privacy and practical reasons. Until Netflix can offer the same content everywhere to everyone who pays for it, many users—especially the overseas users the company most covets—won’t be happy.
Privacy, Practicality, Content
Netflix subscribers say there are a few key reasons to use a VPN: privacy, practicality, and content.
Digital rights group Open Media says that Netflix is putting users at risk by forcing them to access the service without VPNs. “If Netflix does need to enforce, as we would see it as, content restriction, there have to be better ways to do it,” says David Christopher, the communications manager of Open Media, which is behind the online petition. “Many people rely on VPNs as a privacy tool.”
But the reasons for VPN use aren’t always so noble. One Canadian Netflix user tells WIRED he uses a VPN to watch Netflix when he isn’t at home. “I am unable to watch Netflix at work on my break because my company Wi-Fi will not allow it,” he said in a Twitter message. The same goes for watching at a coffee shop. “I used to use a VPN to get around this, and now I can’t.”
More subscribers, however, seem upset that Netflix is limiting the shows and films they can see. Dublin resident Alan Dempsey said in a Twitter message that his VPN service still sometimes works, but not always. While he continues to subscribe to Netflix, he says he’s already seen most of the movies and documentaries he wants to without the VPN. “If it continues or gets worse, I will probably cancel my Netflix subscription altogether as the content for the UK and Ireland simply is not good enough.”
Others feel similarly frustrated with their local Netflix offerings. Jay Sanchez says in Mexico he misses watching British shows like Broadchurch and Asian films that are “quite scarce on my local Netflix.” “I can use the local Netflix,” Sanchez wrote in an email, “I can also browse other versions of Netflix, but can’t stream anymore. I get a ‘you are using a proxy’ error message.”
In Poland, even some Netflix originals are cut, tweets Grzegorz Mikos. He laments, for example, that there’s no House of Cards available on the Polish service, which launched earlier this year. “We have one-third of the USA content for 10 Euros. I waited so long and got this.”
Meanwhile, Netflix isn’t yet available in China, but some people use VPNs there to disguise their location to watch it anyway. Catherine Hewett, an American living in China, does just that. “Being able to use Netflix was just a bonus, but eventually it became the China-censored website that I use the most,” she said in an email, adding that she’s only recently been affected by the VPN crackdown.
“Occasionally, [my] workaround isn’t always successful, and then I get Netflix rage. I’ve become so reliant on Netflix that I stopped using all the other ways of watching TV shows and movies.”
‘Money Is Not The Issue’
So he uses a VPN service to get Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. “I pay the fees, as any red-blooded American would do. I just happen to live north of the border,” he says. He says if the VPN service did stop working, he’d lose the chance to watch many CW shows (“we’re huge superhero nerds”) as well as some FOX and NBC shows.
Maique Madeira of Portugal says his VPN still works just fine as well, but if it stops, he has no problem going back to torrenting shows and films. “I’m using a VPN because I feel I should get access to the same catalog as the US customers, or any other country’s user,” he said in an email. “We pay the same amount and yet we get a fraction of the content available elsewhere.”
“Money is not the issue,” he adds. “It’s unfair. That’s my issue with it.”
Netflix wants to be TV for the world. But as the company tries to convince people across 190 countries to sign up, it will have to prove that it has what they want. “I cancelled as a paying customer,” Johan Stindt, who lives in Austria and the Netherlands, said in a Twitter message. He says he travels throughout Europe and doesn’t want to be restricted by what he’s able to see. And he believes Netflix’s policy will encourage piracy.
“Piracy is made by the greed of the entertainment industry and stockholders,” he adds. “I am a normal man willing to pay for content and they are making that almost impossible.”
Read this article: