Streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now display location-specific content, mostly due to licencing restrictions. Many people have tried to bypass these geoblocks using VPNs and unsurprisingly, failed. These platforms use strong geoblocks that help them to determine if users are trying to access contents unlicensed in their region.
However, accessing unlicensed content is not the only reason why people use VPNs for streaming sites. One major reason is that privacy risks are growing with internet advancements. Hence, anonymous streaming using VPNs is one way users protect their privacy.
In fact, when Netflix started blocking the major VPN providers some years ago, it faced a backlash for this very reason. No one wants to have to risk their privacy just to catch up with the latest show.
In any case, there are still VPNs that smartly bypass these restrictions and help you stream shows and movies anonymously. Firstly though, you must understand how VPN blocking works.
Types of VPN Blocks
- IP Blocking: since VPNs substitute the IP address and location of their server for your own device, some websites can simply block common VPN IP addresses. This is the type of blocking most common amongst streaming sites such as Netflix and Hulu. They maintain a database of IP addresses known to be associated with VPNs so that when a user connects using a VPN, they compare their IP address with the ones on the database and promptly block access if there is a match. This is a simple idea, but it has proved very effective. After all, Netflix is famed for its very strict IP blocking.
- Port Blocking: ports are the routes for the transmission of internet traffic. HTTP and HTTPS traffic use TCP ports 80 and 443 respectively. VPNs often use certain ports; for instance, OpenVPN traffic transmits through UDP port 1194. Under this model, a website can simply identify a port it does not want and block all traffic through that port. Say you want to control access to an event; IP blocking would equal checking that everyone gets inside only with an invite, while port blocking would mean only closing illegal entry points. Obviously, the latter is simpler to implement, and equally weaker. Hence, port blocking is usually used with another blocking method.
- Deep Packet Inspection: this is more sophisticated than the other two. Instead of blocking the source or the route of traffic, some organizations use DPI to monitor the nature of the traffic itself, that is, checking both the header and the payload of data packets (a technical term for the multiple divisions of data sent over computer networks) and block non-compliant traffic. The most ruthless form of VPN blocking, DPI is usually used by governments (such as the Great Firewall of China), but also for advanced cybersecurity tools such as Intrusion Detection or Prevention Systems.
Of these three, the focus here, though, is IP blocking. IP blocking is quite solid and only a few VPN services can circumvent it. With Netflix, for instance, most VPN providers have no reliable servers at all.
Even some of the best VPNs for accessing Netflix are not entirely reliable, with some servers blocked and others open. More so, websites that use IP blocking such as Netflix and Hulu regularly update their VPN server logs with newly-discovered servers. That means a VPN can help you bypass Hulu today, and the next day, it becomes compromised.
The best way to know if a VPN can help you bypass geoblocks and other restrictions by streaming sites is to put it to a test. Providers such as NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark are constantly reviewed and rated among the most reliable VPN services for bypassing Netflix. These providers may not be as effective with bypassing other streaming platforms. Hence, the need to put the desired VPN to test or read reviews about it.
Beyond being able to bypass IP blocks, a VPN must be more in order to deliver the best anonymous streaming experience.
- Speed: there is no point bypassing Netflix geoblocks if you can barely watch movies and shows in HD. One of the popular arguments against VPNs is that they slow internet connection, due to server load, encryption strength, and other factors. Yet, the best VPNs can help you access the internet at high speeds.
- Location and Privacy: data privacy enthusiasts are familiar with groups such as the Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes Alliances. Each of these represents a coalition of countries that share data for the purpose of intelligence and surveillance. The Five Eyes are the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The Nine Eyes include Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Norway, while the Fourteen Eyes add Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Sweden. These alliances create problems for VPNs, particularly when bypassing geoblock restrictions of streaming sites. Hence, the strongest VPNs are based away from these countries. For instance, NordVPN in Panama, and ExpressVPN & Surfshark in the British Virgin Islands. This enables them to deliver stronger privacy protection and of course, true anonymous streaming.
The ‘war’ between privacy-conscious VPN users and streaming sites is one that will continue until the latter either caves in or finds an impenetrable VPN-blocking model. Because most VPNs are effectively blocked, many people give up on them entirely. Yet, this article has shown that bypassing geoblocks placed by streaming websites is simple and straightforward if you have the right VPN.