In fact, Netflix has now performed a total U-turn on the VPN ban (more on this below) that it announced way back in mid-2016.
And even when Netflix did block VPNs, it never banned its users for using, or attempting to use, them. Why? Because there are legitimate reasons for using a VPN aside from trying to spoof your location to access more content via another country’s library. Banning a user who forgot to turn off their work VPN would be nuts.
Does Netflix work with VPNs now?
Customers who try to connect to Netflix through a VPN will be able to watch Netflix originals – shows like Stranger Things, House of Cards and The Irishman – through their VPN connection.
It’s a little more nuanced than that, though.
VPNs have been trying to slip under Netflix’s VPN ban for years now. VPNs such as ExpressVPN ($6.66/month), Ivacy ($1.16/month) or NordVPN ($3.49/month) make a lot of sales purey because they have found ways around Netflix’s VPN ban.
However, if you’re using a VPN that is blocked by Netflix. Think Buffered, HideMyAss! and TunnelBear. Then you’ll be served the Netflix Originals only version of Netflix while connected to your VPN.
How does Netflix detect VPNs?
It’s all about the IP address.
Netflix is unable to tell if a connection is coming from a VPN or not. However, a VPN server’s IP address is often shared with lots of customers.
The methods Netflix (and Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, etc.) detect VPN IPs are pretty basic. There are three parts to it:
1. Online streaming services check for IP, DNS and WebRTC leaks. This is a basic test that good VPNs don’t fail.
However, if you’re using a free, or cheap, VPN, there’s a chance your connection might not be fully watertight – making it insecure.
2. GeoIP databases, such as MaxMind, verify the IP address you’re connecting from. If your VPN is using an IP address that’s on one of these lists you won’t be able to watch Netflix.
3. Streaming services also perform their own IP checks, and they blacklist any IP address that has an abnormal number of account logins, or internet traffic, originating from it.
VPNs have (a lot) more customers than servers, making this last method very effective against some VPNs.
Fortunately, the best VPNs recognise this. They combat it too. By offering more servers/IPs in popular VPN countries. They also have software to spread connections evenly around their IPs. Their final tactic is a game of Cat and Mouse: when an IP gets blacklisted, a fresh IP is rolled out.
Read my article on Netflix not working with VPN to find out more.
Why does Netflix block (some) VPNs?
Because it has to. Netflix US can only broadcast to American internet connections. Why? Because it only owns the US broadcasting licenses.
Let’s look at the hit show (available on Netflix), West Wing, for example. Netflix paid production company HBO for the rights to broadcast the TV series in the US. Channel 4 bought the rights for the UK.
Channel 4 is an ad-supported free network, with free online catch-up services. It therefore requires Netflix to (attempt to) block VPN connections to protect its investment. And vice versa.
Without VPN bans, Netflix and every other streaming service would have no way of policing their digital borders, resulting in production company’s – like HBO – insisting they buy global licenses for their content.