Netflix adds residential IP addresses to its VPN block lists | GeekComparison

The privacy and access wars between consumers and content providers don't seem to be abating anytime soon.
enlarge The privacy and access wars between consumers and content providers don’t seem to be abating anytime soon.

Netflix blocks well-known commercial VPNs and proxies from accessing its services to maintain its geofencing — partitioning access to content based on a user’s real location. Users who connect to a commercial VPN or proxy endpoint in another country can access content that is licensed to display in the country of the endpoint, but not in the viewer’s own country.

Recently, as reported by TorrentFreak, Netflix supposedly started including residential IP subnets in its block lists.

cat and mouse

Since Netflix first started blocking commercial VPN and proxy providers in 2015, those services have fought back by finding ways to circumvent the blocking attempts of its and other streaming services. The easiest way is to just delete an existing subnet that is commonly seen as “VPN/proxy” and buy another, “clean” space. This move can buy a blocklist evader a few days or even weeks before the new subnet is added to the list.

This fundamental conflict between VPN providers eager to satisfy customers who switch regions and streaming services trying to pacify content licensors has led to a six-year game of cat-and-mouse. Both parties are quite reserved about the technicalities, but one technique the VPN providers use is to lease IP addresses in supposedly “residential” IP subnets to use as exit proxies.

A commercial VPN provider told TorrentFreak that Netflix recently started blocking those “residential” proxy addresses as well — with some immediately apparent collateral damage. “You’ve blocked hundreds of thousands of legitimate residential Netflix subscribers,” said a WeVPN spokesperson.

Scope of the damage

Breaching Netflix’s VPN blocking doesn’t hurt as much today as it did in 2015. Rather than outright banning devices originating from a blocked IP address, the service now somewhat selectively removes access to region-locked content.

If you want to watch Netflix originals through a VPN, you can do that whether your endpoint is on the service’s block list or not, but region-locked content will be hidden from view and can’t be browsed or played. A smart user who tries to access hidden content using a deep link directly to that content will get a “Pardon the interruption” error dialog asking the user to disable VPNs and proxies instead.

While WeVPN claims that “hundreds of thousands of users” who don’t use VPNs or proxies have been caught in the crossfire, the real numbers aren’t clear yet. Some Redditors report “missing content” when accessed over Wi-Fi, with the same content reappearing on mobile data. This situation is consistent with Netflix’s current VPN blocking policy. A similar user report on Twitter got a strange response from Netflix pointing the finger at the user’s ISP:

Some tech-savvy Netflix users have reported getting around the fake blocking issue by releasing their public IP address and getting a new one, but that approach only helps if you know what you’re doing, your ISP’s DHCP addresses and the lease at those addresses is relatively short. We are not very optimistic about the results for customers who do not meet all of these criteria and are stuck calling ISP support departments that are not prepared for these types of calls.

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