At the beginning of this year Netflix made a huge announcement. For the first time, they were going to stop turning a blind eye to customers who VPNs to access content outside of their geographical location. Over the last few months they’ve made good on that promise, and they’ve managed to upset at least 45,000 users.
Due to the way VPNs work, it seemed unlikely that Netflix would be able to effectively block people from using them. However, they’ve done a pretty good job blocking people that use a variety of different VPN services. What’s more, they can’t actually tell if you’re using a VPN to access content outside of your country. So if they detect that you’re using one at all, they’ll simply block you from watching any of their content.
So now Netflix has two groups of angry customers. One group wants to be able to access the same movies and TV shows that are offered by Netflix in other countries, and have previously used VPNs to do this. The other group uses VPNs to protect their privacy while online, and are upset that they have to disable it, just to use Netflix’s services.
People from both groups have banded together recently, signing a petition that asks Netflix to rethink their position on blocking VPN users. The petition focuses on the security and privacy side of things, saying that “VPNs are probably the simplest, most user-friendly way for everyday Internet users to safeguard their online activities.”
The petition was started by digital rights organization OpenMedia. They focus primarily on efforts to keep the internet open and accessible. And a part of that is making sure that everyone that uses the internet is able to maintain their privacy. So as you can imagine, a company that punishes users for using tools to keep their internet activity privacy is exactly the sort of thing that these guys want to stand up to.
On their page, OpenMedia points out two main issues that can affect everyday users:
“Want to access domestic Netflix while using a VPN to protect your privacy? Sorry, too bad. It’s Netflix, or privacy – you can’t have both.”
“Want to bypass your ISP throttling your Netflix connection because you live in a country without Net Neutrality protections? Get ready to live with the buffering icon.”
Both of these are completely valid points. Aside from privacy issues, there have been cases where an ISP will intentionally throttle Netflix traffic, for one reason or another. In those cases, users have been able to bypass the throttling issues by simply routing their traffic through a VPN.
Yes, many people do in fact use VPNs to get access to libraries in countries such as the US, which may have many more titles to choose from. However, in order to punish these people, Netflix is choosing to also punish legitimate users who simply wish to keep their private browsing data private.
Earlier this week, OpenMedia’s “My Netflix, My Privacy” campaign reached more than 45,000 signatures. With this milestone reached, the group put together an open letter addressed to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. The letter called out Hastings specifically, for recently calling VPN users “a very small but quite vocal minority” which he said were “really inconsequential to us.”
The letter goes into detail about why VPN access is vital for user privacy, and why Netflix’s decision to block these users is a major setback. The letter also invited Hastings to meet with OpenMedia to discuss the issue in person, so that they could hopefully reach a decision that would benefit all parties.
It will be interesting to hear what Netflix and CEO Reed Hastings have to say in response to this, if anything. While they have millions of subscribers, 45,000 isn’t exactly a small number to call “inconsequential.” You can read the complete letter from OpenMedia here.