After having won the hearts and minds of international users who embraced reasonable prices and large catalogues of content via VPNs and other proxies, Netflix is now battening down the hatches by blocking those seeking to circumvent geolocation restrictions.
The reaction has been notably negative by consumers. This is understandable, because those outside of the US pay much the same to access Netflix, and will soon get access to just a fraction of the content.
But I for one say thank you Netflix, because:
The governments of Australia, Germany, the UK, and the US are destroying your privacy. Some people don’t see the problem…
“I have nothing to hide, so why should I care?”
It doesn’t matter if you have “nothing to hide.” Privacy is a right granted to individuals that underpins the freedoms of expression, association and assembly; all of which are essential for a free, democratic society.
What do government internet surveillance and Netflix geofencing have in common? Both require a degree of complacency by VPN providers and internet users.
Until very recently, Netflix has been quite lax in enforcing content restrictions based on VPN usage. Gaining access to the Netflix US catalogue has been point and click for users, and VPN providers have not had to work very hard to disguise their true intentions. Netflix grew an international customer base, VPN providers made a mint selling fairly routine network services, and governments had a relatively unsophisticated anonymisation infrastructure to infiltrate.
Now Netflix has issued a challenge to the hundreds of thousands of users who embraced VPNs, and their VPN providers, to find new and inventive ways to disguise users true locations.
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.”
The outcome of this arms race will be that VPN and proxy infrastructure will quickly evolve to prevent simple and cost effective monitoring schemes like any that Netflix will initially put in place. VPN providers now have a great incentive to update their infrastructure to combat any blocking, because the first to do so reliably will be made rich almost overnight while those that fail will quickly find customers moving to competitors. Within just a few months I see more anonymous, more secure and more distributed networks becoming the norm as thousands flock to VPN providers that can successfully adapt to the kind of network monitoring that Netflix has committed to, and that governments rely on.
So thank you Netflix for single-handedly creating an environment that will evolve internet privacy more than any other event in history.