Giant billboard protest as privacy campaigners step up fight against Netflix VPN blocks

Regular readers will be well aware of the recent campaign from Netflix to stop VPN users from accessing their service. Since their announcement at the start of the year that they were going global, Netflix has made a concerted effort to stop VPN users evading their geo-blocking service to watch the services in another country.

Now VPN users are fighting back, arguing that the blanket blocks Netflix are trying to implement are impacting those VPN users who just use the service for privacy protection, and are not evading geo-blocking technology. Some VPN users accessing via a server located in the same country are still finding services blocked.


The protests have been led by the digital rights group OpenMedia who have taken a number of steps in recent weeks, including starting a petition which has attracted tens of thousands of signatures.

This week saw their most striking effort yet as a mobile billboard emblazoned with the phrase ‘We Love Our Privacy’ and a link to the official campaign website – defendourprivacy.org – was paraded outside the company’s head office in Los Gatos, California.

For those unfamiliar with the reasons for Netflix’s actions, they are fairly clear-cut. As part of their efforts to become a global service, they have to win the support of rights holders, and they in turn make their money by selling the rights of their programs to the highest bidder in different countries around the world. Obviously this isn’t always Netflix, so the shows you can stream in one country are not always the same as those you can stream in another.

Neither is the price you pay for Netflix the same in different countries, and with the US service having both the largest content and one of the cheapest prices, there is little wonder that most customers wanted to pay for that service rather than the inferior one offered in their own country.

Netflix is now trying to stop them using a VPN to do this, and is systematically blocking IP Addresses it links to a VPN. This is time consuming and expensive work, not least because it costs Netflix a considerable number of fee-paying subscribers, but they have decided to make a stand and even though their efforts are far from foolproof, they have impacted users of a number of larger VPNs and also won them a large swathe of publicity, which was doubtless at least one aim of the exercise.

OpenMedia has been coordinating the fightback and recently wrote an open letter to Netflix explaining why a blanket blocking of a piece of privacy software was unfair and requesting a meeting to discuss a mutually agreeable way forward.

There has to date been no response from Netflix and during an investor call last month, their CEO Reed Hastings seemed to indicate that, for now at least they were not open to discussion.

He described VPN users as ‘a small but vocal minority’ that are “really inconsequential to us.” That may be his stance at the moment, but as the petition and the billboard show, the fight for the rights of internet users to protect their privacy and enjoy the service that Netflix provides will go on.

But for now, if you are a user of some of the big VPNs that have been blocked from Netflix, and hasn’t yet got around the problem, the best option for you is probably to seek out one of the smaller names that can offer a comparable service and still give you access to Netflix.

Here at Fried.com, our recommendation for a VPN that fits all of these criteria would be Buffered. They are a relatively new player on the VPN market, but their privacy levels and speeds match anything the best of the big boys can offer, and being based in Hungary means they can ensure you data will be kept private.

They can also still offer you access to Netflix so even if you are looking to circumvent their geo-blocking technology, there is nothing to stop you with Buffered.

If you are a Netflix user, don’t be shy about voicing your opinions to them either. This campaign against their ill-thought-through attack on online privacy is rapidly gathering momentum and every individual voice will help, whether you right to them directly, sign the petition, or spread the word on social media. The Billboard in Los Gatos is just the beginning.

David Spencer
 

Freelance Writer working on tech, ICT, finance, politics, and sports articles for sites in the US, Europe, and Asia.

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