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Despite anger from privacy advocates, Netflix shows no sign of ending geo-blocking and VPN ban

Is Netflix infringing on your privacy by blocking VPNs?


Amrita Khalid


Posted on May 26, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 5:23 pm CDT

A digital privacy group is protesting Netflix‘s geolocation-based streaming restrictions with a message the company can’t ignore.

OpenMedia signaled its displeasure by setting up a mobile billboard across from the company’s headquarters in Los Gatos, California, on Wednesday. The billboard, which followed the group’s petition protesting Netflix’s ban against VPNs, carried the message “Defend our Privacy.”


“Right now, Netflix customers are being forced to choose between watching their favorite shows and safeguarding their privacy,” Laura Tribe, OpenMedia’s digital rights specialist, said in a statement. “Our mobile billboard is one more way we’re working to encourage Netflix to rethink their approach. The company has much better options available to it, than undermining the privacy of over 80 million paying Netflix customers in the post-Snowden world.”

OpenMedia’s petition has amassed more than 47,000 signatures. 

Netflix’s international viewers often use a VPN to bypass the company’s regional content restrictions. The practice is so prevalent that Netflix cracked down on VPNs earlier this year. But that ban has sparked protests among Netflix users and many digital-rights groups, all of whom argue that, by banning VPNs, Netflix is making things unnecessarily difficult for users who value their privacy.

But further obstacles lie ahead for VPN proponents. The European Commission issued a draft proposal on Wednesday that would ban geo-blocking in online sales but let streaming services keep doing it, at least for now. 

“The proposed ‘anti-geo-blocking’ regulation doesn’t do what it says on the tin,” Julia Reda, a member of the European Parliament’s Green Group, told Bloomberg.  “When most Europeans hear the term ‘geo-blocking,’ they think of the all-too-common error message that ‘this video is not available in your country’ — and yet the measures presented today will not do anything to address this. An anti-geo-blocking regulation that does not cover online video content misses the point.”

OpenMedia’s David Christoper said the partial ban was “all the more disappointing” given the fact that EU Commission had weighed eliminating geo-blocking entirely only a few months ago. 

“It’s clear that, at best, this was sadly only a very modest step forward when it comes to geoblocking,” Christopher said in an email, “and it’s particularly disappointing to see online video services exempted from the new rules.”

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*First Published: May 26, 2016, 6:48 am CDT