Bye, Bye Geotarget and Region Locking?
For many big commercial web sites, knowing your visitors is almost as important as them using your website in the first place. There is after a call a cost to everyone who visits your site and if it’s a commercial site each of those has a value.
We’ve all looked in our logs and seen hundreds of visits from a Chinese hacker or thousands of irritating bots inflating our stats and slowing our web site down as they spider through our sites. For media sites, the information is even more vital – for example the music site Pandora is only licensed to stream songs to visitors in the USA – if they let anyone else listen they could be liable for additional charges or copyright claims.
This has meant that many media sites try and determine your location by looking up your IP address and then deciding if you can proceed or not. Mostly the blocks are applied to visitors from other countries, ensuring the majority of content is reserved for their domestic market. So for example even if you are a BBC license fee payer, you’ll probably have problems trying to watch BBC News online when you’re on holiday or out of the UK.
Unfortunately for these big media sites, the technology that looks up a person’s location from their IP address is fairly easy to circumvent. What happens is that people are able to use proxies and VPNs which hide your IP address and true location from the websites. Instead of seeing your real address they instead see the address of the VPN server or proxy that you are using. Literally hundreds of thousands of people now use these techniques to access content that would normally be blocked due to their location. Although most sites have figured out how to block proxies, VPNs are much more difficult to identify and restrict.
However now, there’s been a twist in the tale – and the media giant Netflix have figured out a way to effectively block the majority of VPN connections without the long winded IP tracking and monitoring previously necessary. What they have done is instead of focusing on the physical locations of the IP addresses, they have switched to another property of the address classification – whether they are residential or commercial.
With this switch in tactic, Netflix blocks VPN services in a single blow simply because the vast majority of them house their VPN servers in commercial data centers which are obviously classified as commercial. Now this isn’t enough as Netflix will only allow connections from residential ip addresses which are normally only available from your ISP.