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Can Netflix detect when you’re using a VPN?

Let’s have a look at these restrictions – what they are, why they exist in the first place, and how we can use a VPN to overcome them.

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Image: KnowTechie

Netflix is arguably the biggest juggernaut in the streaming video market, pioneering many of the industry’s biggest innovations and creating a rich catalog of original content. They are so big and so common in the public zeitgeist; it can be a surprise to encounter someone who doesn’t have a Netflix subscription.

There are some limitations that Netflix applies to its users, however, largely based on geographic locations. Let’s have a look at these restrictions – what they are, why they exist in the first place, and how we can use a VPN to overcome them.

What Are the Restrictions and Why Do They Exist?

Keen users of Netflix and other streaming services are quick to notice that not all countries have access to the same catalog of content on these streaming services. The United States Netflix library, which is the biggest one, has more than 6000 titles in it, while the Netherlands library has almost half that, at around 3500 titles.

Naturally, users of the service want the biggest library they can get, and that means getting access to the US library. This can be done by using a VPN – this Zenmate review is a good example of the kind of research you should do before choosing a VPN provider.

But why is it restricted in the first place? The reason for these restrictions can be summarized in one word: licensing.

When the network or creator of a TV show or movie negotiates with one of your country’s local broadcasters or distribution companies so that you can watch something on your local TV, they will often sign an exclusivity deal restricting other companies, channels or streaming services from showing that specific show while the deal is in place. This means that Netflix is required to block access to that show or movie for the duration of this exclusivity deal.

There have even been cases where Netflix created original content that has not been allowed to be made available by Netflix themselves because they had sold the exclusive rights to another broadcaster.

For this reason, services have started to be made available for you to bypass these geographic restrictions to access one of the bigger Netflix libraries like VPN or DNS services.

How Do Users Get Around This?

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Image: KnowTechie

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a service that has several uses, like increased privacy and others. In our context, a VPN allows users to connect via the internet to a server in a different country, so it appears as if they are in that country.

Some companies that provide VPN services have started to sell subscriptions offering users the ability to ‘fool’ Netflix into thinking they’re connecting to the service from somewhere else in the world. A user in Poland, who has access to only about 3200 titles might use a VPN service to appear as if they are in the United States, and thereby get access to Netflix’s much bigger US catalog.

As more users start using these VPN or DNS unblocking services, a form of cat and mouse game has started between Netflix and these providers. Netflix has a responsibility to enforce the content restrictions, but the companies offering these unblocking services want to keep their services working so they can sell their unblocking services to more consumers.

Naturally, the content creators that leverage these exclusivity deals to fetch higher prices for their movies, series or other content don’t want users from anywhere just accessing them on Netflix because it compromises their ability to offer exclusivity for higher pricing. They, therefore, put pressure on Netflix who in turn needs to detect and block the VPN and DNS services from being able to access the geolocation-locked libraries.

This has led to Netflix creating and putting an incredibly powerful and complex VPN detection system in place. The exact way they detect these services isn’t made public, but at the base level, they can detect these services by monitoring large numbers of users appearing to all use the same IP address.

What Are Your Options?

Many of the better VPN providers use constantly changing IP addresses to keep ahead of Netflix in this cat and mouse game and allow users of the services to continue to access locked content. Ensuring you read reviews of the many different VPN providers to get a sense of how well a VPN can keep ahead of Netflix’s blocking system is important. 

Video streaming and having the on-demand access to binge-watch your favorite movies, series and other video content has been a game-changer for many. It’s often reported that Netflix consumes upwards of 15% of the total traffic generated online globally, which gives you an idea just how big they are. Using a reliable VPN can help you get access to the full catalog available to US Netflix users if you live outside of the US.

Have any thoughts on this? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Chris has been blogging since the early days of the internet. He primarily focuses on topics related to tech, business, marketing, and pretty much anything else that revolves around tech. When he's not writing, you can find him noodling around on a guitar or cooking up a mean storm for friends and family.

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