Tobold's Blog
Monday, August 08, 2016
 
VPN lifetime subscriptions

Recently I've seen a big increase in very generous promotional offers for various VPN services, including PureVPN which I use. You can get "lifetime subscriptions" at over 80% off, sometimes below the price of an annual subscription! As always in life, if something appears too good to be true, there is a hidden catch somewhere. In this case the catch is Netflix. While some people might want to use a VPN in order to protect their privacy, the large majority of internet users couldn't care less about privacy. If they buy access to a VPN service, it is to circumvent geo-blocking. And the most common application is using a VPN to watch the US version of Netflix instead of the local version, because the US version has a much bigger and newer offer of films and TV shows.

At this point in time the large majority of VPN services is not working with Netflix any more. Since the beginning of the year Netflix has increased protection of proxy and VPN services, and is now extremely good at detecting and blocking them. After long discussions with PureVPN customer support they finally admitted to me that they are currently blocked out by Netflix, and couldn't help me other that saying that "we are working on it". There are blogs about VPNs which can help you find a VPN not blocked by Netflix today, but nobody can say whether those still work tomorrow.

The legal situation of all this is doubtful. Of course the media companies say that using a VPN to watch Netflix is piracy, in spite of the fact that you do pay them via Netflix. But the European Commission proposes to ban geoblocking as a form of unjust discrimination, so they consider Netflix to be the criminals and not the VPN users. If I buy something physical, let's say from Amazon.com, the price doesn't change in function of my IP address (although of course I need to pay shipping cost if I want the stuff delivered to Europe). But changing my IP address can change the prices of services like air fares or car rentals I buy on the internet, which is of rather questionable legality, especially when I live in a "common market". And then of course there are now internet sites which buy that airline ticket or hotel room for you, using the lowest price found from all locations. If there is one type of sites that uses certain business practices and another type of sites specifically designed to circumvent those business practices, and neither of them is illegal, then probably the law simply hasn't caught up with those business practices yet.

On the business side, there is anecdotal evidence of people cancelling their Netflix subscription due to not being able to access the US version any more. Some journalists even suggest a link between the recent Netflix share price drop due to slow subscriber growth and the VPN block. And the generous promotional offers of VPN service providers suggest that they are feeling the pinch too. So in summary, be wary of those promotions if you wanted a VPN to watch Netflix or access other geoblocked services. You might buy a "lifetime" of a service that isn't doing what you wanted it to do.

Comments:
@Tobold

Pardon me for asking this, but when you say that the version of netflix that you can get without using a VPN is inferior to the U.S. version, why do you think that is the case? Is there some kind of licensing limitation in place that prevents netflix from showing certain programs in your area? It just seems, to me, that limiting content in any given market would be counterproductive unless there is some copyright or IP issue at stake. Why would anyone want to limit the exposure of their content in another market if it helps with the financial bottom line?
 
Media companies get less money from Netflix showing that content globally than they get for the same content sold country by country, whether that is via local TV stations, DVD, or even Netflix again with a bundle of local contracts. Basically they are trying to get the most money possible by price discrimination. If you google "price discrimination", you can read some pretty scary stories of companies using yhe cookies on your web browser to see what other sites you visited earlier and use that to charge you more or less for the same thing. The European Commission isn't keen on that sort of shenanigans, but in most places it's legal to charge somebody more if you think he's rich and will pay.
 
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