What is geo-blocking?
Geo-blocking is a technology used by companies and governments to restrict your access to websites (or certain content on those websites) based on your geographical location.
For example, let’s say you live in Germany and you have a Netflix subscription. If you try to watch an American TV show, chances are you won’t see it in your Netflix library. Why? Because it’s been geo-blocked by Netflix and made available only to US residents. That’s geo-blocking in a nutshell.
If geo-blocking was a person, you’d spit on their back and always close the elevator door in their face.
How does geo-blocking work?
Geo-restriction technology 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 to 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? There are a few ways, but primarily you will have to deal with IP-based and credit card/bank account-based 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 “126.96.36.199” or “188.8.131.52”. 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 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. We can use that information to our advantage. There’s a huge market of products capable geo circumvention by hiding your real address. Let’s look at some of the options.
1. VPN (Virtual Private Network)
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!
This VPN is the best for bypassing geo-blocking
- Excellent security
- Great server list
- Awesome for Netflix
- Good for torrenting
- Very easy to use
- Affordable prices
2. 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.
3. Tor (The Onion Router)
The Tor browser is another tool that can hide tour location on the web. Due to its decentralized nature, Tor makes your IP address much more difficult to trace whenever you interact with web services.
Simply put, it routes your online traffic via multiple relays that are run by volunteers, which makes your geographical location almost untraceable. Best part? Tor is completely free!
That said, the Tor browser has some downsides as well:
- Tor use may be illegal in your country
- Some Tor relays can be blocked by Internet Service Providers
- Your connection speeds can drop drastically when using Tor
Is geo-blocking legal?
Geo-blocking is in a gray area, legally speaking. In fact, it usually depends on the country. Most countries treat geo-restrictions as a necessary part of international copyright and licensing agreements. This includes developed nations like the US, Canada, and Australia.
The EU, however, seems to be trudging along a different path. Back in December 2018, the European Union issued a ban on “unjustified geo-blocking.” That said, this ban excludes major businesses like Netflix, Spotify, and Steam. This means that online content which most of us use circumvention tools for will remain blocked in the near future.
Is it legal to bypass geo-blocking?
When it comes to the legality of circumvention, it’s pretty much just as legally grey as geo-blocking: wherever VPN usage is legal, so is bypassing geo-blocks.
This means that even though you can’t be legally prosecuted for unblocking region-locked content, the provider may ban your account for breaching their Terms of Service or EULA. Which (almost) never happens.
After all, these companies still rake in profits from subscription fees paid by users who unblock their content by using VPNs, proxies, or SmartDNS services. Which puts the legal question of geo-block circumvention into perpetual limbo.
As a result, geo-unblocking remains as criminally easy as ever, 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 the internet. With modern technology the world is your oyster – enjoy it!