You would probably need more than ten fingers if you counted how many times you got a prompt that certain content was unavailable in your country while watching Netflix, Hulu, or another website. This type of restriction is called geo-blocking, which can be very frustrating for users. Although companies benefit from geo-blocking, it can prevent you from accessing your favorite websites.
But what exactly is geo-blocking, and who imposes it? Is there anything you can do to bypass it? Read our article to find answers to these and many other questions.
Geo-blocking is the practice of limiting access to internet content based on a user’s geographical location. In most cases, geo-restrictions are imposed along national borders, so services from one country may not be available in another. In most cases, videos are geo-restricted, even though it applies to all types of content, including websites, articles, and web services.
Many governments and websites impose such constraints because of licensing or censorship. Others use it to limit traffic to websites that advertise prohibited activities (e.g., online gambling). However, some material is geo-restricted for more benign reasons. For instance, some governments block access to sites they do not want their citizens to visit.
Geo-blocking works by using geolocation to track your IP address. Each computer connected to the internet has one — you receive an IP address once you sign up with an internet service provider (ISP).
The IP address for your computer operates similarly to your home address and acts as a geographical identifier of your location. Online services use it to determine whether you can view their content. In other words, they will deny your request if your IP address doesn’t fall under their allowed list.
Geo-blocking has become so widespread due to a number of factors. While some of these reasons are justified, others are unwarranted. We have highlighted a few of them below.
- Market segmentation — Many global enterprises use geo-filtering to categorize markets. This means that you may not be restricted from using the website, but your location may affect the pages you can see. Media companies, tourist organizations, and retail businesses engage in this practice regularly. They use geo-blocks to impose varying rates on users from different regions for the same services.
- Illegal content restriction — Some authorities may use geo-blocking to prevent access to illicit content, such as pornography and gambling. Certain governments also use this technology for internet censorship. For instance, the Chinese Communist Party censors mainland China aggressively and blocks globally popular sites, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit. There are local alternatives to these websites, which are more willing to comply with governmental demands.
- Legal agreements enforcement — Licensing and copyrighted content are the primary reasons for geo-blocking. Through an agreement, parties obtain permission to use licensed content for specific purposes. This way, creators can monetize their movies, TV shows, music, books, and more. As a result, media companies enforce geo-restrictions to meet licensing requirements.
Almost any website can be geo-blocked; however, it is more prevalent on copyrighted content. The most common examples include the following:
- Netflix — Although Netflix is available in over 190 countries, its library varies from location to location. Netflix has licensing agreements with the rights holders of TV shows and movies on its platform, which allows it to stream in certain countries. In other words, a show on US Netflix may not be available on Italian Netflix.
- Amazon Prime — Amazon Prime uses geo-blocking to restrict its streaming content and block access to games, e-books, software, and similar services licensed and protected by the same copyright laws as TV and movies.
- YouTube — Content owners on YouTube can set their own region restrictions. The rights holder can file a claim if an unauthorized video upload on YouTube contains a copyright violation.
- Spotify — If you have trouble finding certain artists or songs on Spotify, it is probably because the app is unavailable in your region.
- Live sports — Some live sports sites use geo-blocking to secure exclusive broadcast rights to major sports events.
Despite the frustration it causes, geo-blocking is legal. In China, for example, the practice restricts access to prohibited material. It is also a legitimate means of enforcing legal contracts and licensing agreements. Many companies use geo-blocking for business reasons, including implementing dynamic pricing. Furthermore, location-based restriction promotes a false sense of rarity by making hard-to-find content more valuable than that with easy availability.
However, viewing illegal sites or violating copyrights by circumventing geo-blocking may be unlawful in some cases. Therefore, you should always investigate why a particular website was geo-blocked before you attempt to use it.
People can use several tools and techniques to bypass blocks and gain access to a website. We have listed a few examples below.
Geo-blocking relies on your IP address, so if you want to circumvent restrictions, you’ll need to disguise it. Virtual Private Networks (VPN) allow you to change your IP address to a location of your choice. Upon connecting to a VPN server, your traffic appears to originate from the VPN server rather than your home network. For instance, if you live in Spain, you would use a VPN to route your web traffic through a US server to view its geo-blocked content.
Bypassing geo-blocking is also possible with proxy servers. They act as intermediaries between you and the host server rather than changing your IP address. This method only reroutes traffic for the specific applications you configure it for. Thus, it’s safe to say proxy servers are less efficient than VPNs regarding security and performance.
Smart DNS and DNS changers are also helpful for circumventing geo-blocking. To enable geo-blocked content, smart DNS reroutes your Domain Name Server requests through a different location. DNS changers can alter your DNS address every time you connect, while a smart DNS utilizes only one or two DNS addresses. DNS configurations and smart DNS are more challenging to set up as they require a better understanding of how network requests work.
Thor is a network of many different servers that uses them randomly to route internet traffic, ensuring data stays private and untraceable. Since traffic is routed through many layers of encryption, Thor is often referred to as an “onion network.” All layers of Thor servers are encrypted, so your location and online activities are completely protected from prying eyes.
However, extra layers of encryption can slow down your internet connection, and watching Netflix, for instance, can be challenging.
Despite its legitimate uses, geo-blocking is susceptible to abuse. Authorities in oppressive regimes can use it to manipulate the public and discriminate against them. Since geo-blocking is becoming worse for internet users, many entities and companies have figured out how to get around it. If you use a quality VPN, you won’t have to worry about geographic restrictions when browsing your favorite sites.
Generally, free VPNs have trouble unblocking services. Due to their smaller networks, platforms can often blacklist their IP addresses more easily. Plus, they have fewer resources, which makes finding workarounds for new VPN-detection features more difficult.
The answer depends on how badly you need or want access. VPNs can also be beneficial when you want to keep your internet and torrent history and location hidden or play online games in a country with strict monitoring laws.
No, it isn’t. Geo-blocking restricts access to a website or content based on location, while geo-fencing creates a virtual geographic boundary around a specific area using technology. Upon crossing into that area, specific content or blocked websites become viewable.
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