Bad news for Netflix users in China: the online movie and television streaming service recently announced that it would be banning the use of VPNs to access content. Say goodbye to watching Girl Meets World with the kids or catching up on Orange is the New Black after they fall asleep.
With the service already unavailable to users in China, that essentially makes accessing the site within the Mainland impossible. Now that means you'll have a hard time avoiding Making a Murdererspoilers, unless your local DVD shop happens to have episodes in stock.
Netflix is already unavailable for most users in China. While there have been reports of some being able to access the site without a VPN, the above screenshot shows what you see when you try to access the Netflix homepage with a Chinese IP address. Users accessing the site without a VPN on are automatically redirected to netflix.com/cn.
The move to ban VPNs comes as part of an effort by Netflix to show its partner studios and networks that it will protect content and abide by their licensing laws. Said David Fullagar, the company's vice president of content delivery architecture in a blog post: “Some members use proxies or ‘unblockers’ to access titles available outside their territory. To address this, we employ the same or similar measures other firms do. This technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it.”
But will the VPN-detecting technology actually work? According to Wired:
'There’s some low hanging fruit they can get,' says Karl Kathuria, the CEO of Psiphon Inc, which runs proxy technologies for users in countries that censor the Internet like Iran and China. “If it’s a standard VPN with one or ten servers, then it can be pretty easy for them to see what the IP addresses are and block them.'
Netflix could also track whether individual users are regularly logging in from different locations, Kathuria says, which could signal they’re using a VPN.
'But once you get past the standard VPN, the ones that have a limited infrastructure, after that, it’s going to start to get a bit more difficult,' he says. And the question is whether it will be something they could enforce...
If providers are able to build workarounds, Netflix will have to commit significant energy (and money) to fighting off users who try to keep using them. 'It is more or less a game of cat and mouse,' says Andrew Lee, a digital rights activist and the founder of provider Private Internet Access. 'The cat catches the mouse. The mouse, in order to get around this, creates 1,000,000 mice and becomes anonymous due to the sheer number of mice.'
Netflix's predecessors have encountered trouble banning VPNs in the past. Video-streaming site Hulu tried (and failed) to cut off VPN access for users outside the US in 2014. Their measures ultimately didn't succeed because VPN providers found ways around the restrictions.
'China is obviously a very large country. There are a billion Chinese that we want to give access to Netflix content,” Hastings said during a lengthy question and answer session following the event. “In China you need specific permission from the government. We’re continuing to work on that, and we’re very patient.'
[Top image via Den of Geek]