In the modern interconnected world, there is a term that has challenged the freedoms that the internet should offer: geo-blocking.
But what is Geo-Blocking?
It is a concept that restricts access to content, goods, and services on the internet. From streaming platforms to online shopping, geo-blocking is a digital barricade dividing users based on their geographical location.
The technology looks at a user’s IP address, the digital address that allows internet service providers, websites and streaming services to identify the location of a user and restrict access to online content.
Is geo-blocking legal?
It is commonly employed to comply with regional regulations, manage licensing agreements, and tailor content to specific markets. While it’s commonly used and can be legal, in certain jurisdictions, such as the EU, it is disallowed.
The implications of geo-restrictions are far-reaching, prompting intense discussions about its ethics, privacy concerns, and economic impact.
Critics argue that geo-blocking can perpetuate digital discrimination, lead to price discrimination, limiting access to information and opportunities for individuals residing in certain regions.
“geo-blocking can perpetuate digital discrimination, lead to price discrimination, limiting access to information and opportunities.”
Then there is the question of bypassing geo-blocking.
Savvy netizens do this by employing virtual private networks (VPNs) or a smart DNS proxy server providers to hide their true location and their real IP Addresses and access restricted content.
But to bypass geo-blocking often results in a cat-and-mouse game between content providers and users.
Table of Contents
How does geo-blocking work? Geo-blocking is a mechanism used to restrict access to online content and services based on users’ geographical locations.
It identifies a user’s IP address or GPS data, which identifies where they are located. This is then used for restricting access to the online content and services they can access.
By analysing an IP address, websites, apps and platforms can pinpoint a user’s geographic location and determine user access to content or decide whether to deny access to geo-blocked content and block IP addresses
As well as an IP Address, geo-blocking can also use GPS data from mobile devices to ascertain a user’s location.
When a user attempts to access a geo-restricted site, the DNS servers can detect the user’s location through their IP address and redirect them to the appropriate regional content version.
Alternatively, they can decide to block websites and control access to specific versions of their content.
Why Geo-blocking Exists
Perhaps the most common reason for geo-blocking is licensing and copyright laws. Streaming services and content providers enter into intricate agreements that state where their content can be made available.
These are often based on geographic regions, as deals may vary from country to country. Geo-restricted content is a simple way for them to comply with the terms of these deals.
A slightly more sinister use of geo-restrictions is as a tool for businesses to implement dynamic pricing strategies on individual markets.
“A slightly more sinister use of geo-restrictions is as a tool for businesses to implement dynamic pricing strategies on individual markets.”
Price discrimination, as dynamic pricing, as it is often rightly termed, is where products or services are offered at different prices in different locations.
It is perfectly legal despite the fact that it discriminates based on location and is a common practice in today’s global economy. Factors such as purchasing power, demand, and local competition influence pricing decisions.
Geo-blocking is the tool used by internet companies to maximise revenue while staying competitive within each region.
Compliance with local laws and regulations, especially in heavily regulated industries like gambling and pharmaceuticals, also means that companies have to restrict access to content in some regions and geo-blocking is an easy way to do this.
Common Uses of Geo-blocking
Some of the most common users of geo-blocking are:
Geo-blocking is widely used by media companies and streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video to restrict content based on geographical locations.
This means popular TV shows and movies are often available in some regions but not others, and customers in one location can have a much more restricted content library than those in other regions.
The result is user frustration and countless hours spent browsing to look for something worth watching.
Many online retailers employ geo-blocking to comply with regional tax laws, European Union law, customs regulations, and licensing restrictions for certain products.
It is also used to employ dynamic pricing policies where they can charge different amounts for the same products in different regions.
Geo-blocking in online shopping results in users being unavailable to purchase some things and paying over the odds for items depending on their location.
Geo-blocks are used in gaming to manage server loads and ensure fair gameplay, especially in massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) and regional-specific game versions. They are also used to censor access to games in some regions.
For users, this means they may encounter difficulty playing with friends from different regions, and some games or in-game events might be exclusive to specific areas and not available to them.
Access Digital Content and Services
Various websites, platforms, and services, such as Government portals, education services, and news sites, restrict or alter access based on geographical locations to comply with regional laws and regulations.
This means that this sort of site can block access if you have a different IP address to the ones they allow to access, and can result in censorship and limiting the flow of information around the world.
Content creators and distributors use geo-blocking to protect their intellectual property rights and adhere to licensing agreements.
For users, in practice, this means movies, TV and music being unavailable in different regions or being on a variety of expensively-priced subscription sites rather than in a single location.
Geo-blocking is employed in industries like online gambling and pharmaceuticals to use internet traffic data to ensure they adhere to regional laws and regulatory requirements.
This use of geolocation technology results in users sometimes being unable to participate in certain online activities or purchase specific medications, even if they are legally available in other regions.
Geo-blocking and its Impact on Global Digital Rights
Geo-blocking has become a focal point of ethical and legal debates surrounding global digital rights.
Critics argue that this practice poses a significant challenges to the principles of digital equality and freedom, fragmenting the internet along geographical boundaries and limiting access to information, goods, and services based on your real IP address and location.
Digital discrimination is the idea that certain regions or countries may receive inferior access to online content or face restricted opportunities compared to more developed or economically powerful areas.
Price discrimination, which is often enabled by geo-blocking, can lead to varying price points for the same product or service, disadvantaging users from other countries with weaker purchasing power.
The debate around geo-blocking regulation and its impact on digital rights is ongoing. The aim is to strike a balance between respecting regional laws and promoting a globally accessible and equitable digital landscape.
Finding solutions remains a complex challenge for policymakers, industry stakeholders, and digital freedom advocates. But, until they are resolved, users must instead find their own tools to protect their own digital rights and get the best online services they can.
How to Bypass Geo-blocking Using a VPN
The Functions and Benefits of a VPN
The tool that most people turn to bypass geo-blocking is a Virtual Private Network or VPN.
A VPN is an online privacy and security tool that encrypts user data and redirects it through an external server to help with blocking malicious traffic.
These are located in other countries around the world and this process replaces a user’s IP Address with one linked to the server.
In this way, a Virtual Private Network can help with bypassing geo-restrictions and enable users to access geo-blocked content from practically anywhere.
Popular VPN Apps and Their Features
There are lots of VPN services out that that can encrypt data and help with circumventing geo-blocking.
ExpressVPN is our recommendation. After 10 years of testing VPN apps they stand head and shoulders above the competition.
It has great apps for your desktop and mobile device, a huge network of server locations, and robust encryption to keep your data secure.
Speeds are as quick as they come, but if you want a boost, it also comes with a Smart DNS proxy server service that can bypass geo-restrictions even faster by connecting to its proxy servers.
NordVPN is another VPN that’s great if you want to evade geo-blocking and bypass internet censorship. It has another big network of VPN servers that can let users access content and bypass geographical blocking.
Speeds, security, and privacy protections are all good and there are lots of bonus features like its own proxy services and VPN over Tor network servers that send your data through the Tor network and a VPN server for maximum security.
There are other good VPNs to bypass geographical blocking including Surfshark VPN, which offers unlimited simultaneous connections to protect all your devices, CyberGhost VPN, which has user-friendly apps great for VPN novices, and IPVanish.
All will protect your internet traffic and bypass geo blocks with ease and many also offer a smart DNS service too.
Step-by-Step Guide on Using a VPN to Bypass Geo-blocking
Once you have chosen a VPN, you need to set it up so you can use it to bypass geo-blocking where you are.
To help, we have compiled this simple guide:
- Sign up for your preferred VPN (eg; ExpressVPN) by selecting a package on their website. The best VPNs will cost you a few dollars a month and come with at least a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Download the VPN app onto your devices. Always do this from your device’s app store or the official VPN website for security reasons.
- Open the app and log into your new VPN account.
- Connect to a server in a country where you can access content and services you want to use.
- Lastly, just browse the internet as usual. If you can’t find what you want, try a server in another country. All these VPNs have dozens, if not hundreds, to choose from.
Legal Implications of Bypassing Geo-blocking
Deciding to bypass geo-blocking with a VPN or proxy servers does raise some possible legal implications.
Is bypassing geo-blocking illegal?
Generally no, but while VPNs are completely legal to use in all but a handful of countries, they offer a way to mask users’ true geographic locations and access restricted content.
This may violate intellectual property rights, content distribution agreements, and regional regulations.
Depending on the content and reason for bypassing geo-blocking may also play a part in the legality.
Bypassing restrictions to access copyrighted material on illegal streaming websites would be illegal.
Bypassing geographical restrictions on legal streaming services outside of their intended country is a legal grey area globally that doesn’t appear will be resolved any time soon.
Bypassing content restrictions in countries where freedom of information is heavily restricted may be illegal in that particular country but may be seen as morally legal by the majority of the global population.
Risks and Precautions When Using VPNs
Using a VPN to bypass geo-blocking isn’t without risk. There are potential security risks, especially with free VPNs that can come bundled with malware and adware or not offer the level of encryption you expect and so offer little protection from malicious traffic.
There can also be privacy risks if your VPN does not offer a rock solid no user logs policy and service issues, such as slow speeds and an inability to manage bandwidth that have a detrimental impact on your user experience.
There are some steps you can take to mitigate these risks including:
- Choose the right VPN: Avoid free VPNs and downloading VPNs from untrusted sources, as some may contain malware or adware. Stick to official app stores or well-known reputable VPN provider’s website.
- Device Compatibility: Ensure the VPN is compatible with your devices and operating systems to maintain consistent protection.
- DNS Leaks: Periodically check for DNS leaks to confirm that DNS addresses are not exposed while using the VPN.
- Two-Factor Authentication: Enable two-factor authentication wherever possible to add an extra layer of security to your VPN account.
- Keep Software Updated: Regularly update both your VPN software and operating system to patch security vulnerabilities.
What is geo-blocking? Geo-blocking is used by websites and internet content providers to protect licensing agreements and enforce price strategies.
Depending on your perspective it is essential for compliance with local laws and regulations, or digital discrimination on a mass scale.
Using a VPN such as ExpressVPN connected to a server overseas is a secure and simple way to bypass geo-blocking.
You can also use the less secure Smart DNS proxy servers method. This redirects traffic through a proxy server. A proxy server works in the same way as a VPN server but without the additional encryption, security and semi-anonymity.
All these methods can bypass geo-blocking, but don’t get the nub of the fundamental issue of whether digital rights should trump commercial considerations and compliance with local laws.
That is a debate that we are yet to satisfactorily complete but which is fundamental to the future of the internet.