Netflix recently made a change to its Android app that has made it harder for users to bypass geographic restrictions to access the video-streaming service outside their home countries — which is a violation of the company’s terms of service.
But Netflix says there’s nothing new about its strategy, and that the app update was not part of an effort to crack down on “geo-dodgers.” Furthermore, the company maintains that it’s OK for subscribers to use a virtual private network (VPN) as long as they can be verified as accessing the service within the country they’re authorized for.
“There’s been no change to our VPN policy,” Netflix spokesman Cliff Edwards said in an email.
An updated version of Netflix’s Android app last fall included a hard-coded link to Google’s domain name system (DNS), according to a post on piracy news site TorrentFreak. As a result, users with some services that employ DNS systems that to their locations found themselves unable to access Netflix without reconfiguring their routers. But Netflix has said the move to use Google DNS was to make the service more reliable, not specifically to thwart unauthorized out-of-country access.
Naturally, the use of technical subterfuge to log in to Netflix has been especially rampant in countries where the company doesn’t offer service. Between 50,000 and 200,000 people in Australia have used VPNs or other circumvention tools to access Netflix’s streaming services illicitly, according to a report last year in The Australian. This March, Netflix plans to launch in Australia and New Zealand — which stands to be an easier option for residents Down Under.
The geo-restrictions are in place because Netflix’s licensing deals with studios cover specific countries where it has rights to stream movies and TV shows. In some cases, that content may already be exclusively licensed to another distributor in a given territory. For example, Netflix is unable to offer its marquee series “House of Cards” in France and Germany, where CanalPlus and Sky Deutschland, respectively, have exclusive local broadcast rights.
That said, Netflix has increasingly been trying to obtain worldwide distribution rights to content — such as via its deal with Warner Bros. for the first season of “Gotham,” which kicks in after the Batman origin series finishes its broadcast run on Fox in the U.S.