Netflix users beware; if you’ve been using technological tomfoolery to spoof Netflix into thinking you’re from a country other than the one you’re actually in, your jig is about to be up, Engadget is reporting.
Why does Netflix care what country I’m in? The answer has to do with the complicated licensing agreements between Netflix TV and movie distributors. For example, say you live in Germany, and you want to binge-watch House of Cards before spoilers start blowing up on social media. The problem is that the distribution rights for House of Cards in Germany belong to Sky Deutschland, according to Variety.
These licensing restrictions that affect Netflix also affect YouTube. If you’ve ever gotten the message that says, “This video is not available in your country” when trying to watch a YouTube video that your friend recommended, you’ve run into the same licensing issue that plagues Netflix users.
So what’s this “Technological Tomfoolery” all about? The way around these licensing restrictions that plague would-be Netflix users has to do with what is referred to in the tech industry as VPN’s – that is, Virtual Private Networks. A VPN can be used to to mask where you’re accessing the internet from. If your internet service provider (ISP) is based in San Francisco, and you want to watch content that isn’t licensed in the U.S., you can use a VPN to disguise your internet address as coming from an ISP in Toronto or Amsterdam or Shanghai.
Depending on whom you ask, VPN’s are either a nefarious backdoor for violating copyright law (the view taken by Netflix, obviously) or they’re vital for the free flow of information despite obtrusive governments. Political dissidents, for example, use VPN’s to access content that their government would try to censor or to protect themselves from government retribution for what they may post.
How does all this shake out for Netflix scofflaws? Well, if you try to bypass Netflix’s country restrictions, you’ve violated the company’s Terms of Service, so there’s that.
“You may view a movie or TV show through the Netflix service primarily within the country in which you have established your account and only in geographic locations where we offer our service and have licensed such movie or TV show. Netflix will use technologies to verify your geographic location.”
Those “technologies” can include something as simple as looking at the billing address on your credit card or using “geologging” software when your mobile device reveals your location (hint: turn off geologging from your settings, especially if you’re an ISIS jihadist with a fondness for Twitter).
As of this post, it’s not exactly clear what, if anything, Netflix will do to users who try to bypass country restrictions (a time-out? a stern talking-to?), but for the meantime, Netflix is working to establish worldwide distribution rights for its content, meaning those country restrictions will (hopefully) become a thing of the past.