Will The Netflix Crackdown On VPNs Encourage Piracy?By Cassie Phillips / September 21, 2016 / Tags: Netflix, Unblock Content
Netflix is trying to tighten its geographical restrictions by closing a loophole that lets users unblock Netflix content in different regions. But there are reasons to think the crackdown will backfire.
To put it simply, the answer is yes: piracy will rise in the aftermath of the Netflix crackdown. Until this year, Netflix hadn’t done much to stop customers from using services known as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or SmartDNS to circumvent their regionally-based content restrictions (which are in place because of territorial licensing). Unfortunately for some VPN users, the honeymoon may now be over.
Netflix Delivers On Promises
In February, Netflix finally took steps to prevent users from accessing content on other regional versions of Netflix. (For example, Netflix subscribers in Canada could unblock US Netflix and get access to a vast library of shows and movies not available on Netflix Canada.) The move followed the company’s promise to crack down on “unblocking” back in January. Almost immediately, users began complaining about suddenly being unable to access content they were happily viewing before.
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This change presents a real issue, as a survey through targeted advertising suggests a majority of users (specifically those using VPNs to unblock Netflix) would turn to pirating content should Netflix block them from accessing it with a VPN.
The survey also suggests over half of these same users would consider terminating their subscription to Netflix as a result of the new restrictions. This reaction isn’t surprising, given that customers might lose access to the very content they subscribed to get in the first place. There have already been some complaints since the crackdown. We can’t expect that to lighten up anytime soon, either.
So What Is A VPN?
Unless you have personal experience with one, you’re probably wondering what a VPN is and what it does. Recommended as an online security and privacy too, a VPN connects a user’s computer, smartphone, or another device to a secure offsite server. The IP address (the digital fingerprint) of the connected device then changes to reflect that of the VPN’s private server.
This, in essence, allows one to “relocate” their internet connection to anywhere on the globe – and thus to stream geo-blocked content by avoiding the region restrictions imposed by Netflix and other sites. As an additional benefit, using a VPN also encrypts internet traffic, protecting the user from threats on unsecured networks, such as public WiFi.
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Users of VPNs have been avoiding restrictions set by Netflix and other providers for years using this method — which, thus far, is still problem-free. Netflix may be wise to continue to let it slide, since watching programs in this way means users are at least paying for a Netflix subscription instead of pirating the content.
Banning VPN Users Is Like Removing The Hydra’s Head
What Netflix fails to realize (or just isn’t concerned about) is that preventing users from accessing their content with a VPN is sure to increase cybercrime in the form of piracy. Streaming services have, by and large, been a huge success – not only financially, but legally. They’ve cut down on piracy for the simple reason that they are accessible to the public for a relatively affordable rate. There’s very little motive to go through the effort of pirating when the desired content is available via legal channels.
While no one can blame Netflix for trying to enforce their policies, their actions are likely to produce fallout for both their bottom line and other legal entities. A loss of subscribers will likely mean an increase in stolen content, serving only to magnify the problem that was once solved largely by Netflix. At the very least, it will drive some customers to other services. Already, the trend to watch free Netflix (Blackmarket Netflix) is on the rise.
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Netflix has set a dangerous precedent. By restricting their users from accessing content with VPNs, they’re showing other companies that they too can exercise the same option in the future. Only time will tell if Netflix ultimately loses out by enforcing their rules, as users are notoriously clever about circumventing restrictions set in place by businesses. So far it seems that they haven’t cracked down on VPNs as thoroughly as they claimed they would back in January.
As of this writing, certain VPNs still work to unblock geo-restricted content on Netflix (see this article for a list what does and doesn’t work). Once one is shut down, someone else finds a way around established defenses. It looks like it’s going to be a protracted battle, and consumers are likely going to get stuck in the crossfire.
About the Author: Cassie is an internet security specialist, and she often combines that knowledge with her love of entertainment. She has written about many of the hottest online streaming services and enjoys taking a deep look into new technology. She is a contributing author at SecureThoughts.com.