In 2016, Netflix made the decision to start actively blocking VPN services, preventing users from accessing content available on the platform in other countries.
The company’s subscriber growth and share price took a bit of a dip following the announcement, but that has not seemed to impede the meteoric rise it has enjoyed since.
Many South African Netflix subscribers were upset at the change, considering the relatively sparse amount of content available on Netflix at the time compared to countries like the United States.
Previously, South African subscribers were able to use free VPN services to select a specific location to route their traffic through.
This had the effect of changing the user’s Netflix region, and in many cases granting them access to additional content.
Accessing international content
While many popular free and paid VPN services are no longer able to grant users access to international Netflix content, there is a painless and efficient way of watching content from the US or European Netflix catalogues.
Just after Netflix began its crackdown on VPN software, Opera released the complete version of its VPN-equipped browser to users around the world.
The browser includes a built-in VPN that can be enabled in the “Privacy and security” settings. Once enabled, it can be turned on and off by simply clicking the “VPN” icon to the left of the browser’s navigation bar.
When enabling the free VPN, users can opt to select one of the following three regions: Americas, Europe, or Asia.
It is important to note that Opera’s VPN does not offer the same anonymity and security of a paid VPN service, but it does allow you to route your traffic through a proxy location in a region of your choice, which is apparently enough to beat Netflix’s VPN protection.
You can still use Opera’s built-in browser VPN to access extra-regional content from Netflix with no noticeable reduction in stream quality.
MyBroadband tested the VPN’s functionality by simply downloading the browser, enabling the VPN by selecting the Americas region, and logging in to Netflix with an existing account.
Immediately, we discovered we could access content which was not present on the South African version of the streaming service, while our favourites list and show progress was saved regardless of region.
This also worked when selecting the Europe region, with our traffic routing through an IP address in Sweden.
The problem surrounding Netflix’s blocking of VPN services and limiting of content depending on region is a complex one.
On one hand, Netflix acquires broadcast licences for certain regions and not others, meaning that users paying a subscription in South Africa should not have access to content exclusive to the US version of the platform.
However, if a South African travels overseas and attempts to access their Netflix account, they might find that they are unable to access their favourite domestic content due to regional restrictions in the country they are visiting.
These subscribers may argue that they pay for the South African Netflix catalogue and should have access to its shows, regardless of their physical location.
There is no clear solution to the problem, and organisations such as OpenMedia have previously argued that the better solution is one that does not sacrifice user privacy.
Many Internet users make use of VPN services to preserve their privacy and anonymity, and OpenMedia argued that Netflix should not force them to compromise their privacy simply to access its catalogue.
In the meantime, Opera’s VPN remains a relatively painless way to access international content on Netflix, although it does not provide the same level of privacy and security as a paid VPN service.