Netflix is a hugely popular streaming service that people across the globe, and more recently us, use. However, if you did subscribe to Netflix locally, there is no doubt that you would have noticed how limited our selection is.
To gain access to more of Netflix’s catalogue, people defaulted to using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), but Netflix wasn’t too happy about that. In fact, they vowed to crack down on VPN usage, a vow they have apparently made solid on.
If a recent thread on Reddit is to be believed, Netflix is already flexing its VPN-blocking muscles as users in several countries in Europe and even the United States are running into an error when they try to access the streaming service via a VPN.
According to user u/eduazy’s post, when accessing the site with a VPN, users will trigger a streaming error (M7111-1331-5059), which blocks them from accessing the content. A report by GHacks.net also confirms that they’re experiencing the same problem when accessing Netflix via a VPN, though curiously their error code begins with an H, not the letter M described by u/eduazy, as can be seen in this screenshot.
In a world of strict licensing rules and regulations, this move by Netflix stems from their desire to keep their content locked based on geographical location. This makes sense from a business standpoint because if you’re a local broadcaster who as the rights to publish a show, you wouldn’t want some foreign streaming service butting in and taking a cut out of your audience.
However, this seems to be an outdated notion. As the world becomes more connected, it doesn’t make much sense to force users to maintain multiple subscriptions just so they can watch a particular TV series. By enforcing such strict licensing rules, broadcasters may have just forced users into pirating something many would gladly pay for if it was in a more accessible medium, as user u/Shivadxb says:
“I will gladly pay you, but if you refuse then f–k you, I’m downloading that”
And that’s just one side of the coin. US citizens are also forced to use a VPN to access their local Netflix content simply because many ISPs there throttle their connection speeds when they access the streaming site. Why? All of this is part of a long discussion about Net Neutrality which you can find out more about from Last Week Tonight’s episode about it here, or this informative comic drawn by TheOatmeal here.
In a nutshell, Net Neutrality is the idea that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally by ISPs — something they haven’t been doing in the first place. Instead, some ISPs throttle user’s connection speeds to streaming sites like Netflix to save bandwidth.
US netizens who are victims of such throttling use a VPN to disguise their traffic, hiding the fact that it is a video stream from the ISP’s filters, or as u/PaulTheMerc puts it:
“When you have a VPN on, it is like everything is packaged in nondescript white boxes, they don’t know what it is, and therefore are very unlikely to intentionally slow it down”
That way, they can actually use the speed they paid for to view the content that they also paid for — something they can’t do now, thank’s to Netflix’s VPN ban hammer.
Granted, it isn’t Netflix’s fault that ISPs are intentionally throttling connection speeds, plus Netflix is only doing what is required in the licensing laws. That said, it is through their actions that many paying customers who have legally (almost) been enjoying the content they paid for may now have to resort to piracy to get their entertainment fix.
UPDATE: After some testing, it looks like Netflix didn’t get all of the VPNs.