Netflix Makes Good On Promises To Crack Down On VPNs, But Blocks Are Short-Lived

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Netflix has begun blocking some users of VPN services, following the company’s global expansion earlier this month, and subsequent promises that it would begin to crack down on those customers using VPN software to access content not licensed in their region. According to a Melbourne-based VPN provider, uFlix, some users started to see an error message when they tried to stream non-Australian content on Netflix using the company’s unblocker service.

The message read:

“You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy. Please turn off any of these services and try again.”

According to uFlix’s message to users, not all of its customers were affected. However, the company suggested that may change in time, saying “though it is only affecting a few users at the moment, we expect this number to grow.”

Of course, many assumed that Netflix’s statements regarding its plans to begin blocking VPNs were more for show – that is, they were meant to appease broadcasters who were already concerned about the company’s inability to enforce the geographical licensing restrictions on Netflix’s content across regions.

And with Netflix’s expansion to 130 more countries, bringing its total reach to 190 countries worldwide, the expectation was that more users would turn to VPNs in order to access Netflix’s content libraries not currently available in their own country.

In addition, at this year’s CES event in Las Vegas, Netflix’s Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt explained that while Netflix does “apply industry standard technologies to limit the use of proxies,” going after these VPN providers is “likely to always be a cat-and-mouse game.”

He even added that it was fairly easy for these providers to evade Netflix’s blocks.

“[We] continue to rely on blacklists of VPN exit points maintained by companies that make it their job. Once [VPN providers] are on the blacklist, it’s trivial for them to move to a new IP address and evade,” said Hunt, at the time.

Netflix later tried to correct these statements, noting vaguely by way of a blog post that it would, “in the coming weeks,” begin to clamp down on the use of unblockers and proxies.

“…those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are. We are confident this change won’t impact members not using proxies,” read the post, written by Netflix’s VP of Content Delivery Architecture, David Fullagar.

As of today, it seems that Netflix’s attempts to block uFlix may have been futile after all, though. The VPN provider said it was working on a solution that would “get around these new measures,” and now reports that a fix is already in place, only days later.

In fact, the company said it had developed a fix by January 20 – only a day after announcing the problem to its users – but needed to put an additional measure in place before rolling it out.

That indicates that while Netflix may be trying to make good on its plans to crack down on VPN usage, it will ultimately remain a game of “whack-a-mole.” That is, Netflix may be able to temporarily disrupt services like uFlix, but dedicated proxy providers will quickly find a workaround.