Netflix starts blocking Australian customers from US catalogue
Netflix has already begun locking out some Australian customers who circumvent its geographical blocks to access content from overseas catalogues, just days after it announced a crackdown on the practice.
Melbourne based service uFlix, which configures a user's DNS settings and IP address to make it look as if they are connecting from a different country, said a small number of its customers had received notices from the popular streaming service telling them to switch off their unblocking service.
"You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy," Netflix said to its customers, according to uFlix.
"Please turn off any of these services and try again."
uFlix said the crackdown had so far reached only "a few users", but that it expected the number to grow in the next few days.
"The blocking is currently not aggressive and we believe (for the moment) they are only testing the new blocking methods on their customers," uFlix managing director Peter Dujan said.
"We suspect that they are blocking known IP ranges and gaining additional information from the user's browser or mobile device and comparing it to the proxy and user IP addresses."
Dujan echoed the sentiments of many unblocking services about the crackdown, saying Netflix's efforts to lock people out of global content were "temporary at best" as services such as uFlix would ultimately outsmart the streaming giant.
"It is a last-ditch effort to keep an archaic business model alive," he said.
"At the end of the day it's simply a game of cat and mouse, and this is our job, so let's play."
uFlix is investigating how Netflix configured its latest efforts to block Australian users from overseas content so it can find a work around.
It's collecting detailed information from affected users about how they connected to its service when they experienced the "error" message.
"The more users we can get to give us this information and test, the faster we will be able to pinpoint the issue," uFlix wrote in a customer-wide bulletin.
ExpressVPN, which creates virtual private networks across the globe to achieve similar results to uFlix, also said it had seen evidence that Netflix's crackdown on geododging was under way.
ExpressVPN communications manager David Lang agreed all-out prevention of geododging was "highly unlikely".
Critics say the move will ultimately backfire on Netflix, with Lang and Dujan warning it will push consumers towards piracy.
"Just as the Pied Piper led the children from the city, media companies and Netflix risk leading their customers away, perhaps never to return," Lang said.
"Any attempt by motion picture and other media companies to pressure Netflix into obstructing access to paid content will only serve to drive countless more people into the world of online piracy; an outcome where no one wins."
However, in an investor call following its quarterly earnings announcement this week, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said piracy and geododging were "maybe distant cousins at best".
"I think of geo-filter hacking as people hacking to pay, whereas piracy is people hacking not to pay."
Chief executive Reed Hastings admitted the crackdown was "catering to their [content owners'] desires", which he described as "legitimate".
He said he did not believe the crackdown would affect Netflix's subscriber numbers.
Netflix has historically been less aggressive than rival streaming services such as HBO Now and Hulu - neither of which have launched in Australia, but which can be accessed with unblocking techniques - when it comes to enforcing geographical blocks.
Hastings has in the past championed the push towards eliminating the territorial content licensing restrictions at the heart of the problem, describing his company as a "prisoner of the current distribution architecture" at a keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month.
In the same speech, Mr Hastings said he believed such restrictions could be eliminated in the next five or 10 years, which would give people across the globe access to the same content at the same time.