Netflix and China Crack Down on VPN Use?

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A couple of news items have caught our eye over the past month, both involving VPN’s.  The first is news that Netflix has been asked to ban VPN use of their service by individuals using to get around regional content locking.  The second is an increase in restrictions affecting VPN users within China.  In both cases, it appears that personal VPN’s are taking some lumps.  While this is to be expected with any growing technology, it’s a bit depressing to see the VPN technology getting a bad wrap.  For users, this is another example of the ever changing landscape on the internet.  It seems each month, and each year, users are watching technology sprout up (and get chopped down) in a variety of different ways. 

First up are the claims that Netflix is under pressure to reduce VPN access to its streaming media service.  For expatriates abroad, and a great many users of Netflix…this could be catastrophic.  TorrentFreak picked up this story in the Fall of 2014, and a bunch of news outlets ran with it including Forbes.  In the months following the news, Netflix issued a statement saying the rumors were NOT true, and they had no plans to ban VPN users from accessing the service.  But if you read their statements carefully, you can see that Netflix does take action against VPN’s, per its policy and contracts with the content owners.  However, they have not undertaken any “special effort” to outright ban VPN’s.  So glass half-full we suppose.  But what is a user to do?  Sit around and hope their service isn’t the one who gets chopped?


Well for starters, you can take a look at some data to see that Netflix isn’t going to outright ban VPN’s anytime soon.  They can’t, they have too many users who fall into the category.  According to internet data analytics firm, GlobalWebIndex, Netflix has something like 30 Million users overseas, virtually all of them using a VPN of some sort to connect.  By their estimates, 20 Million of the 30 Million are inside China and obviously outside the regional boundaries of Netflix contracts with media owners (like Foxtel, for example).  While this is welcome news, and an indication that Netflix will have to act carefully if it wants to preserve its paying user base, it is not a silver bullet.  Speaking of China…

VPN Cat and Mouse Games

Also highlighting the new challenges facing personal VPN services is a recent move by China to increase restrictions on their “Great Firewall”.  In January of this year, news media was buzzing with announcements that China had cut off many popular VPN services such as StrongVPN, Astrill, and Goldenfrog VyprVPN.  Since just about everyone with an internet enabled device in China uses a VPN, this made pretty big news.  Some small VPN services escaped unscathed, and the big services were able to restore access within a day or two.  Still, it looks like tough times ahead.

Great Firewall InfoGraphic Courtesy of TheCoffeeDrinker

VPN users are likely in for some cat-and-mouse games down the road.  These examples with Netflix and China are confirmation of what many have thought for some time:  personal VPN will soon feel the pressure too.  That goes for DNS services as well too, unfortunately.  Ultimately we are seeing more restrictions, and it’s coming from all over.  In the case of Netflix it’s the content owner/licensor, and in the case of China it’s obviously the government.  In either case we are seeing an increase in focus to personal VPN services and also an increase in restrictions aimed at reducing their effectiveness.

We recommend you pay close attention to your VPN service provider support information, and those that find themselves with second or third tier providers may find themselves on the outside looking in.  Cat-and-mouse games tend to take time and resources, something smaller firms may not have; which might bode well for the big guys.  The drawback being the big guys can be easier to spot (think IP and traffic).  Just look at what happened to Astrill, VyprVPN, and StrongVPN.  All pay services confirmed issues in China.  As of this writing, all 3 were back up and functioning.  Like we said, welcome to the new cat-and-mouse.  Again, no clear victories here.  Just more battles…



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