What is geo-blocking?
During your travels in the wondrous digital realm you have doubtlessly encountered geo-blocking. It’s almost impossible not to these days: when you’re on Youtube, just biding your time – there it is, singing its “This video is not available in your country” tune. Trying to get a few plane tickets and have a nice vacation, just you and a loved one? Hello, geo-blocking here, waiting to charge you more just because you’re an Aussie. Want to see those sweet American shows on Netflix? Sorry, friend, your compatriots don’t like those shows so much, so I’ve made them unavailable.
If geo-blocking was a person, you’d spit on his back and always close the elevator door in his face. Screw you, geo-blocking.
How geo-blocking works
“If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”
– Sun Tzu
Geo-blocking is used to achieve a number of purposes:
- Media companies may have different copyright deals in different countries. Therefore, they will often use geo-blocking to restrict access to copyrighted material for users in a particular country,
- Setting different prices for users in different countries,
- Limiting access to content in compliance with national laws,
- Limiting access to content that is deemed irrelevant for foreign users.
The popularity of Netflix has done a lot to draw the world’s attention towards this phenomenon. But guess what? Even Netflix hates geo-blocking and has been purposely avoiding calls to place harder restrictions on their content. As a result, the platform has managed to develop a worldwide user base and is on the verge of becoming a regular noun.
So, how does it function, this geo-blocking? There are a few ways, but primarily you will have to deal with IP-based geo-blocking and credit card/bank account geo-blocking. Let’s take it a step at a time.
When connected to the internet, each computer has a unique number that it can be identified by. This is called the “IP address” or simply “IP”. It contains four sections and looks something like “18.104.22.168” or “22.214.171.124”. If someone knows your IP, they know more than just a number. In addition, they can likely learn:
- Your internet service provider (ISP),
- What country you are in.
When you access some website or service, it gets your IP address and can use geolocation software to determine where you are. Once this has been determined, the site or service will display content tailored for your location.
Credit card or bank transfer restrictions
Some sites or services don’t think it’s enough to restrict you based on the location of your IP. They’re right to think that, of course, and we’ll show you why in a moment. These financial measures are difficult to bypass – they will only allow you to pay for goods or services using payment cards registered in the right countries.
How to bypass geo-blocking?
Knowledge should be available to everyone, everywhere. That’s why the internet was created and that’s why it’s so revolutionary. Thanks, but we’re not having any of that geo-blocking stuff!
So, what can we do? Well, for one thing, we can bypass geo-IP blocking almost entirely by employing ninja-like methods of disguise.
Remember that it mostly works by reading your IP. In true Sun Tzu fashion, we can use that information to our advantage. There’s a huge market of products capable of hiding your real address. Let’s look at some of the options.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
VPNs are by far the most important and best tools in this discussion. That’s because a good VPN can do so much more than just bypass geo-blocking measures.
Virtual Private Networks extend your home network and make it seem like the connection is coming from one of the many VPN servers. These tools will let you choose a server in a particular country or city. If you want to access content for the American population, just connect to a VPN server in the US. Additionally, most VPNs will encrypt your data, offering a great deal of protection for more sensitive activities (such as torrenting, for example).
An advantage VPNs have over the competition is that they are usually professional companies, whose business is to “stay with the times”. Thus you can expect constant updates to tackle new challenges.
There are free VPN options out there, but these are frequently very problematic. And either way, it makes sense to spend a little money on a good VPN. Their usefulness grows with each passing moment! Some of the best choices are NordVPN or CyberGhost, but you can check our VPN review page for more.
Proxy service and Smart DNS
The main difference between a proxy and a VPN is that the latter will secure your entire connection. Meanwhile, a proxy works on specific apps, such as your browser or BitTorrent client. Both will hide your real IP, but proxies will usually not encrypt your data.
In essence, a good VPN is more reliable and universal – it will make everything about your online behavior seem foreign. That might not be the biggest concern if you’re only interested in streaming geo-blocked content, but you will find it useful in other situations.
Smart DNS is similar to proxy services (or rather, it is a proxy of a different kind). Essentially it lets you use a different DNS (Domain Name Server) than the one provided by your ISP. The main difference between a regular proxy and Smart DNS is that the latter will have just some of your traffic diverted through it. This makes it faster than using a proxy or VPN, but it is also a lot more limited.
Your location no longer matters
Geo-unblocking is criminally easy, if you’ll excuse the pun. Just get an app and you’re good. There’s no reason why you should stay in your little patch of internet. With modern technology the world is your oyster – enjoy it!