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Netflix Vows to Shut Down Proxy Users Who Bypass Country Restrictions

Netflix, which now offers streaming service in some 190 nations, says it’s going to bring the hammer down on people who circumvent country-based content licensing restrictions using proxies or “unblockers.”

Within the next few weeks, Netflix subscribers using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they are currently located, VP of content delivery architecture David Fullagar wrote in a blog post.

Fullagar acknowledged that people use such tools because Netflix doesn’t offer the same content in globally.

“We are making progress in licensing content across the world… but we have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere,” he wrote. “For now, given the historic practice of licensing content by geographic territories, the TV shows and movies we offer differ, to varying degrees, by territory. In the meantime, we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location.”

Fullagar’s post didn’t provide details on what new technical changes Netflix plans to implement to enforce the content restrictions. “We are confident this change won’t impact members not using proxies,” he wrote.

A Netflix rep, asked for more info, said only that the company “uses a variety of technologies to properly geolocate members and to avoid attempts to circumvent proper geolocation.”

A veritable cottage industry of startups has sprung up to sell proxy and virtual private network services that let Internet users access Netflix — and other geo-blocked services — from restricted territories. For example, those allow someone located in the U.K. to access programming available only to U.S.-based subscribers.

Netflix’s terms of use explicitly forbid the use of proxies or other bypass mechanisms. “You may view a movie or TV show through the Netflix service… only in geographic locations where we offer our service and have licensed such movie or TV show,” the company says.

But that hasn’t stopped millions of consumers from turning to proxies to get around that rule. More than 30 million users accessed the service monthly from countries where Netflix had not yet launched, per a study in January 2015 by GlobalWebIndex. Of those, 21.6 million were in China — a massive market where Netflix faces several hurdles — the firm estimated.

The move by Netflix to more rigorously enforce geographical content-licensing rights indicates that it’s responding to studio and content partners concerned that viewership of movies and shows via Netflix from non-licensed territories will impinge their other distribution deals in those areas. The company may also be seeking to limit account-sharing among subscribers.

“This technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it,” Fullagar wrote in his post.

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