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VPNs and Netflix

Graphics showing a globe being unlocked
Alex Kidman Wed, 07/06/2017 - 20:16

Prior to the official launch of Netflix Australia in March 2015, an estimated 200,000 Australians were already signed up to Netflix US. How do you connect to a service that isn’t technically available where you are? Through the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

If you're using the Internet, services like Netflix can tell which country you're connecting from. The quantity and type of content you’re able to access can change as a result. For instance, Netflix might have the rights to air a show in the American market but not here in Australia. As a result, it won't offer that show to viewers connecting from down under, a process often referred to as 'geoblocking'. If someone sends you a link to geoblocked content, you'll see a message like "This video is not available in your country".

Enter our friend the VPN. VPNs mask the origin point of your internet connection, instead making it appear as though you’re connecting from a different spot on the globe. While VPNs can also help protect your privacy online, a key part of their appeal is this ability to watch shows from around the world.

Now that we have access to a number of different subscription streaming providers you might imagine that the use of VPNs would have declined. However, the simple fact that so many shows aren't available in any way on local services means VPNs are still very popular.

Australia appears to have drawn the short end of the stick when it comes to what's on offer. By way of comparison, the US version of Netflix has access to an estimated 6,000 more titles than the Australian version. For the typical binge-crazed TV viewer VPNs are a lifesaver, but for big media streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu they pose a threat.

No you may be wondering: is this even legal? Well technically it’s not illegal, but that doesn't mean it's risk-free. Using a VPN to access content goes against the terms and conditions of your streaming service provider. If they detect you’re using a VPN you may find your access temporarily blocked, or in some cases your account may be permanently banned.

Streaming providers aren’t taking geoblock-dodging consumers to court, but they are taking action against the VPN developers, often by blocking any users of that service. You may find it tricky to get a VPN service that will work consistently, and it's near-impossible if you aren't willing to pay for the VPN. Given that risk, a month-to-month deal may be safer than a longer subscription to a specific VPN provider.

Not sure if it's worth the money? Check out this comparison of Australian vs. American Netflix and weigh up whether you think the time and extra cost of a VPN is worth those added titles.


Alex is the Telco Editor at finder.com.au. He's been writing about consumer technology topics for the best part of two decades, and enjoys breaking down complex topics into their component parts.

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