If you follow the news about internet privacy and freedoms, then you will have heard a lot of discussion recently about geoblocking. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the restriction of access to web content based on a user’s location. In other words, it means that some websites will be available in the US but not Canada, or that you will be restricted to using a different version of a site when you access it from China than when you access it from Sweden.
At the end of last year, the EU passed regulations about the practice of geoblocking in order to protect customers, making this a hot topic of late. However, many advocates for internet freedom have argued that these regulations are not complete enough to truly protect users from geoblocking practices.
This article takes a closer look into the inner workings of geoblocking. Additionally, we’ll show you how to bypass it in order to access your favorite content from anywhere in the world–completely free of geographical restrictions.
What Is Geoblocking And How Is It Used?
The term “geoblocking” can refer to several similar issues, all of which are related to limited access to internet sites based on the user’s current location.
One common form of geoblocking is restricting the access that users have to certain copyrighted material on streaming sites – for example, the fact that a particular movie might be available on Netflix US but not Netflix Germany. Even if you’re a Netflix US customer, if you travelled to Germany and tried to use your Netflix account to watch that movie, you wouldn’t be able to. This kind of geoblocking occurs due to copyright laws. A platform like Netflix might have the rights to show a movie or show in one country (like the US) but not another (like Germany), so they are obliged to prevent customers in Germany from watching that content. Other streaming sites, like HBO Go, PBS, or Hulu, are available only in the US and are not accessible at all by users from other countries. And plenty of countries have a national broadcaster whose content is only available within that country, like the BBC iPlayer in the UK or CBS videos in Canada.
The type of geoblocking at the center of the recent EU regulatory controversy dealt with price discrimination. Essentially, online shops would display different prices to different users based on where in the world they were browsing from. In Australia, for example, physical copies of video games tend to be much more expensive than in other countries like the US or the UK. However, retailers take it a step further by jacking up the price of downloadable games to match their physical counterparts. Because different countries also have different currencies and different shipping costs, this kind of geoblocking is often hard for the consumer to detect.
Finally, another situation where geoblocking occurs is online gambling sites. As gambling laws vary by country and by region, gambling sites must ensure that they are in compliance with the laws in every region that their users access the site from. If the site is not in compliance with laws in a given country, or simply has not confirmed what the laws of that country are, they must turn away users from these countries and not let them access the site.
Will The New EU Laws Prevent Geoblocking?
Geoblocking can be unfriendly or even unfair towards customers. Most consumer advocates agree that it is unfair to charge a higher price for an item just because the buyer accessed a website from one country rather than another. So it is indeed good news that the EU has taken steps to crack down on this practice by online shops.
The new laws prevent ‘unjustified’ geoblocking of prices for physical goods and services, like buying electrical goods online or renting a car. So if you make one of these purchases online, you should get the same price whether you purchase from your home country or another EU country. This is referred to by the European Commission as the “Digital Single Market” strategy, aiming to unify the market experience when purchasing online across EU countries. The idea is that you could buy an item like a dishwasher from another country if the price is better, then arrange for delivery to your home country. You can also use online services like website hosting for the same price across the EU.
However, one glaring omission from this strategy is any mention of digital goods. So if you want to stream movies, TV shows, music, or to purchase a digital copy of an item, then you won’t have any protection from geoblocking. This is partly due to the issue with international copyright that we mentioned above, and partly due to the difficulty of regulating online businesses that may do trade in the EU but be registered elsewhere. Whatever the reason, it is for sure that the EU ruling won’t be forcing Netflix or Spotify to make their catalogues equally available across all countries any time soon.
Another issue with this ruling is that it only applies to buyers and sellers within the EU. If you live elsewhere in the world and experience higher prices due to geoblocking – such as in Australia – then these regulations won’t help you out.
How Do You Beat Geoblocking?
If the new EU laws won’t be the end of geoblocking, how do you beat it? The good news is, that it’s possible to get around geoblocks even if you’re outside of the EU (and even for online streaming services like Netflix or BBC iPlayer!) You can do this using a VPN, which is software that encrypts all of the data that your device (whether it’s a desktop, laptop, phone, or tablet) sends over the internet. This encrypted data is sent to a proxy server located somewhere else in the world, where it is decrypted and sent on to its original destination.
You can use a VPN to make it appear as if you are located anywhere where there is a server available. So there is almost infinite flexibility in using a VPN to get around geoblocks, as you can “spoof” your location (aka make it look as if you are in that other location) to anywhere that you want. This can let you access sites that you couldn’t use otherwise, access a larger catalogue of content on streaming sites, and save money in online stores as you can avoid the geoblocked prices.
Geoblocking And VPN Blocking
If you’re planning to use a VPN to beat geoblocking, one more factor that you should consider is whether the service you want to use employs VPN blocking. This means that if you connect to your VPN and try to access one of these sites, you’ll get an error message and you won’t be able to access the content. This is currently the case with Netflix and BBC iPlayer, which both set up countermeasures to restrict the large numbers of foreign users accessing their exclusive content with a VPN.
Blocking IP address ranges works by identifying an IP address that is used by a VPN and then blocking nearby IP addresses, as these are likely to be used by the same VPN. Similarly, multiple users accessing a site from the same IP address suggests that these users are part of a VPN, so website systems may block their access as well.
If you want to defeat the geoblocks of Netflix and BBC iPlayer in particular, then you should look for VPN guides for these particular services, as not every VPN provider will work with them. We have guides available for VPN providers that work with both Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
How To Choose A VPN To Beat Geoblocking
When you want to get around geoblocks, there are a few factors that you should look for in a VPN. Although you might be tempted by a free VPNs, we strongly advise you against this as they often have very poor security policies and can make your device vulnerable to misuse. Instead you should find a reputable, trustworthy paid VPN that has the following features:
- Lots of servers so that you can always connect to one when you need it.
- Servers in many different countries so you can get around geoblocks of all kinds.
- Fast connections so that you can stream video and audio with no buffering or delays.
- Excellent security such as the use of strong 256-bit encryption to keep your data safe.
- Privacy enhancing measures like a no logging policy so there are no records of your internet activities.
- Ease to use software that can be installed on all of your different devices.
Thinking on these factors, here are our top recommendations for VPNs to beat geoblocking:
ExpressVPN has everything that you need: loads of servers, fast connections, and good security. When you subscribe to ExpressVPN you’ll get access to a huge network of servers that includes more than 1500 servers in 94 different countries all around the world (including in North, Central, and South America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East). These servers offer some of the fastest connections we’ve seen from any VPN, well earning their “Express” namesake, so they’re perfect for users who download lots of large files or stream lots of video in high definition.
The security features include the use of strong 256-bit encryption and a no logging policy, plus there are extra options in the software for DNS leak protection, a kill switch, and an IP address checker. The software is very easy to use and has a simple user interface, and it is available for devices running Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and Android, plus some games consoles and smart TVs. If you like the convenience of switching your VPN server from right within your browser, you can use the browser extensions that are available for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari.
- Unblocks American Netflix, iPlayer, Hulu
- 3,000+ super fast servers
- Very simple and easy to use
- Strict no-logging policy
- 24/7 Live Chat.
- Slightly pricier than competition.
Read our full ExpressVPN review here.
IPVanish offers speedy connections to servers all around the world. For getting around geoblocks the service will give you access to more than 1000 servers in 60 different countries, including servers in Europe, North America, Central and South America, Oceania, Asia, and Africa. It has a particularly large number of servers in the US so it’s a great choice for users who love watching US American movies or TV shows. The connections are super fast and won’t slow your browsing down.
The service also has great security with strong 256-bit encryption and a no logging policy plus extra options in the software like a kill switch, DNS leak protection, periodic IP address change, and DNS configuration. If you’re an advanced user who wants control over the details of your VPN connection then this service is a great choice. The software is available for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and Android.
Read our full IPVanish review here.
Geoblocking restricts access to a website’s content based on the location of the person browsing the website. This can cause all sorts of problems for users, from the material they want to stream not being available to being charged higher prices in online stores just because of where they live. For this reason, the EU has recently passed laws against some aspects of geoblocking, like setting prices differently in online stores for physical goods being bought from other countries. However, the problem with geoblocking persists for both digital goods (like streaming services) and other places in the world outside the EU.
If you want to beat geoblocking and explore the internet freely and without restrictions, then you can use a VPN. This will allow you to connect to a server in another country and browse the internet as if you were in that country instead of your own. You can access the content you want on streaming sites and save money when shopping online.
Have you had experience with geoblocking causing you problems? What methods have you tried to beat it? Let us know in the comments below.