Table of contents
- Meaning of geo-blocking
- How does geo-blocking work?
- Why do content providers use geo-blocking?
- A few examples of geo-blocking
- Amazon Prime
- Live Sports
- How can you bypass geo-blocking?
- VPN (Virtual Private Network)
- Smart DNS
- Bypassing of geo-blocking: main benefits
- Final thoughts
- Is geo-blocking legal?
- What does geo-blocking do?
- Bypass of geo-blocking: is it legal?
Meaning of geo-blocking
Geo-blocking is an act of prohibiting access to any form of content (i.e., photos, videos, music, apps, web pages, websites) based on geography.
How does geo-blocking work?
Geo-blocking does not work based on your home or work address. Instead, it operates based on an internet protocol (IP) address, which is the string of characters that identifies your computer.
Any internet-connected device will have an IP address, including your desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone. To identify your IP address, you can Google “What is my IP address?” It will look something like this, 22.214.171.124.
When you try to access a website, such as a music streaming service, your IP address will be sent to its server. Because an IP address adheres to a particular format for each market — just like country codes for phone numbers — the service can identify your general location and determine whether your access needs to be geo-restricted. A content provider, for example, may want to prohibit access to a video to all people located in South Korea, as identified by their IP address.
Take, for example, Disney+. One of the biggest Netflix challengers in the streaming world. However, you will not be able to access Disney+ unless you are currently in the US, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, or New Zealand. Of course, there is VPN – one way to bypass the massage you see below.
Why do content providers use geo-blocking?
Though geo-restrictions may irritate users, there are several legitimate reasons that content providers turn to geo-blocking.
- Licensing agreements. The content provider may not have the authority to broadcast the geo-blocked content in a particular country or region.
- Business strategy. Putting something online makes it available to everyone. A content provider may not want this for some of its intellectual property, preferring to launch in different markets on a set schedule.
- Rule of law. The geo-blocked content may have content that violates the policies of a particular country, such as nudity. Rather than censor the offending content, the content provider may preemptively geo-restrict access to avoid legal trouble in that market.
A few examples of geo-blocking
Geo-blocking is common across the internet. Here are a few examples of geo-blocking from some of the world’s most popular websites.
Though YouTube streams user-generated content, the platform enables content creators and video owners to restrict access to certain countries or regions. Viewers who then try to access these restricted videos will be geo-blocked. In other cases, YouTube will geo-block content to comply with local laws and regulations.
As with most video-on-demand services, Netflix has a different library from country to country due to licensing agreements with distributors, producers, and content creators.
Some movies and television shows may be available in the United States but not in other markets.
As Netflix is producing more original localized content, this availability may also apply in the other direction, with some content available in other markets but geo-restricted in the United States.
Amazon Prime Video shares a similar fate as its main competitor, Netflix. Movies and television shows are often geo-blocked so that they can be accessed only from certain markets or regions.
The Spotify app is completely inaccessible in certain markets, such as China, Russia, and Pakistan, and limited availability in markets across Africa and Asia. The music streaming site also has more granular geo-restrictions for countries where it is available, such that music is geo-blocked. This may apply to a particular musician, their catalog, or even particular albums or songs. If you are on the Spotify basic plan and hate ads, geo-blocking may actually work in your favor. You can change your server location to correspond to a country that has fewer ads, so you can have less interruptions when listening.
Like music, movies and television shows, live sports are frequently geo-blocked due to licensing agreements. The NBA League Pass, for example, enables viewers to stream live basketball games over the internet. While it is available globally, it is blocked for basketball fans in a whole host of countries, including Belarus, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Kosovo, North Korea, Russia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria, who will have to content themselves with post-game highlights.
The same applies to the live passes for other major sports, such as football, baseball, soccer, cricket, and mixed martial arts, which may be geo-blocked in different markets.
Because AirBnB is an online-to-offline app that intersects with the real world, the company has to use geo-restrictions in response to the sociopolitical climate. One such example after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Airbnb subsequently halted all operations in Russia and Belarus, a Russian ally, and geo-blocked users from both countries from making bookings in other parts of the world.
How can you bypass geo-blocking?
Because geo-restrictions are based on a device’s IP address, there are several ways to bypass geo-blocking.
VPN (Virtual Private Network)
Unlike a phone number or home address, a person can easily change their IP address through a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs were originally invented to serve enterprises working across multiple regions, but they now offer numerous benefits to consumers.
A virtual private network keeps data secure by routing it through a path between your device and a server. This encrypts their traffic and changes a person’s IP address, so that it appears as they are in another country. Because their IP now appears as if they are based in another market, the person can now access the previously geo-blocked content.
There are secondary benefits of using a VPN. In addition to accessing block content, users can also access websites that may have been entirely forbidden, such as those restricted by government censorship policies. When shopping cross-border, users also prevent themselves from falling victim to price discrimination, wherein sellers charge more for products or services depending on where you are from. Finally, a VPN also muddles a person’s data, protecting them from data brokers.
With an easy-to-use Clario VPN, you will get access to multiple server locations around the globe. Follow these simple steps to watch or listen to your favorite content in mere seconds:
- Download Clario and get a subscription to set up an account
- Toggle the Browsing protection switch on
- Click Turn on > Allow
- After you allow Clario to add VPN configurations to your phone, click Done and enjoy your secure browsing experience.
Instead of trying to access content directly, a person could elect to use a proxy server. As its name implies, the proxy server will act in place of the user to access information and then provide it back to them. This is possible because the IP address of the proxy server is provided to the website rather than your own.
To use a proxy server to bypass geo-blocking, it should be based in a different country or region. When the proxy server is hosted in a market that has access to the geo-restricted content, the person will then be able to view or consume it. Proxy servers are ideal for content you may view on a repeat basis. Because proxy servers cache content, previously viewed content will be saved and provided immediately upon revisiting. Proxy servers are also ideal for users who do not want overly complicated solutions since they can be run entirely from the browser, sparing the need for installation.
Proxy servers do have several disadvantages. Because other people may use a proxy server, their internet speed may slow as more traffic is routed through it. While some proxy servers can act as a veritable firewall, others may be less secure. Because proxy servers are browser-based, they will not work for other portions of your device that may be connected to the internet, such as apps.
Tor is often associated with criminality and the dark web, but the browser has many legitimate uses, such as bypassing geo-blocking. To begin, users must download the version of Tor compatible with their operating system, such as Windows, iOS, Android, and Linux.
Tor uses “onion routing,” which — like an onion, has several layers of encryption. By routing traffic through three different servers, the user is kept anonymous. These measures will enable users to access previously geo-blocked content with one caveat: It may be slow. Because more time is required to pass through the encryption layers, the internet connection may be slow. Another potential issue is if you’re trying to access content available in limited markets. Because Tor does not allow users to choose a particular server, this browser may be inefficient for accessing country-specific content.
Apart from that consideration, users will generally be able to access all the sites on the regular internet, as well as those with the .onion suffix, which are only accessible via this browser.
A domain name service (DNS) address operates one level higher than the IP address. Mostly used for hosting services, a DNS address converts alphabetic references into a server’s IP address to be more compatible with computing. This way, a person can type in an easy-to-remember domain name rather than a complex sequence of numbers.
Because of this role, a DNS address can also be used to identify a person’s general location, much like an IP address. With a Smart DNS, a person can use a different DNS from their real one, giving them access to geo-blocked content. Even if their DNS is changed, a person’s IP address will remain the same.
It’s important to note that using a Smart DNS does not get around all geo-blocks. If a person uses Smart DNS to bypass geo-blocking for his home country, the country affiliated with the new DNS may have its geo-blocks. Generally speaking, a Smart DNS can only circumvent simple blocks, and it does not offer higher level features, such as encryption.
Bypassing of geo-blocking: main benefits
There are several benefits to bypassing geo-blocking.
- Access previously accessible content. By bypassing geo-blocking, people can gain access to music, movies, television shows, apps, and other content that was once locked.
- Gain convenience. If people followed geo-restrictions, they would have to move to other markets to access the content. Bypassing geo-blocks spares people the trouble of having to be in a particular market to access the content available there.
- Increase security. A secondary benefit of bypassing geo-blocks is increased security and privacy. Since most methods, such as a VPN or Smart DNS, mask the person’s identity in some way, they will also be better protected from cyber threats.
Encountering a geo-block is probably one of the most frustrating experiences for people on the web. Fortunately, there are several ways to get around these geo-blocks to access the content they want, which require various levels of technical sophistication.
One of the simplest is a VPN, a feature offered by the Clario app, which also includes an ad blocker, an antivirus, and anti-tracking software. With the Clario app, you can not only access previously locked content, but do so safely, securely, and privately.
Is geo-blocking legal?
Geo-blocking is indeed legal for a variety of reasons. Since the content providers may have different licensing agreements, they are justified in preventing access in regions where they have not been authorized to distribute or broadcast the content.
What does geo-blocking do?
Geo-blocking prevents users from accessing content based on their IP address, which identifies them as being from a prohibited country or region.
Bypass of geo-blocking: is it legal?
This depends on where a person lives. In some nations, bypassing geo-restrictions may violate the terms of service of the website, but it is not illegal. If a show is not available in a particular market — Big Bang Theory is not accessible in Turkey, for example — and a person there bypasses geo-blocks to watch it, he may be breaking TOS but not any laws. In the United States, bypassing geo-blocks is legal. In the European Union, bypassing geo-blocks is also legal, as it has been banned in principle due to a related ban on online sellers charging more for goods in one market than in another.
Bypassing geo-blocks may be illegal in countries where restrictions are imposed from the state, such as in Muslim countries that block or censor movies with nudity. In China, for example, it is illegal to use a VPN that bypasses the Great Firewall, and it is similarly prohibited in North Korea.