2023, August 03
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Security
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10 min read
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Matt S.

What Is Geo-Blocking? Legality & Bypass Guide

Geo-blocking is an access restriction based on the user's location. For example, a website might be accessible in one country but blocked elsewhere.

You have probably heard about situations where you try to watch a TV show or stream a movie that’s available on the platform you subscribe to. And BAM, you can’t see it because the content is geographically restricted. So, you’re left wondering, why is Netflix or Amazon Prime better in one country than another. Things get even worse from here. Some people cannot access financial info, technological resources, or even basic daily news.
You can thank Geoblocking for that. Even though it’s quite a common occurrence, definitely not everyone is aware of whether it’s at all legal and whether there are ways to bypass it. If you’re one of those wondering, you’re in luck!
This guide will talk about everything you should know about geoblocking from A to Z.

Geo-Blocking – an overview

What is Geo-Blocking?
You may not be aware of it, but once you go to particular websites, they can use cookies and other trackers to know certain things. They mostly concern your device, but can also be linked to your person. One of the data points that are analyzed and gathered – is your IP address. It is a unique identifier that is linked with a geographic location. By simply analyzing this data, a website/platform/app can at least roughly know the location from which you’re browsing.
Geo-blocking is the activity or technological solution which seeks to stop users with certain IP addresses from accessing geo-blocked or geo-restricted content online. Once the website analyzes your IP address, it can enforce access controls and
Limit access to specific content
Deny access to specific content
Limit/deny access to the platform
Change the data you see to exploit certain loopholes
Here‘s an illustration showing the most common forms of Geo-Blocking.
The practice of Geo-Blocking is always surrounded by controversy. The EU has taken a strong stance against it, labeling Geo-blocking as a discriminatory practice (Read more). On the other end of the spectrum you have big businesses, media companies and holders of intellectual property rooting in favor of it. It’s understandable from their point of view, as geo-blocking allows finding more streams for revenue and better control of their property.
Examples of Geo-Blocking
The easiest way to understand why a lot of people hate Geo-Blocking is to look at an area we’re all familiar with – VOD streaming. These are usually the best examples of this practice in action. We have one case we’d like to share.
If you are subscribed to Netflix in the United States, you would have access to a completely different media library, as opposed to the user from the UK.
Here are two screenshots from JustWatch – a website that compiles available streaming and buying options for your favorite shows & movies. Take a look at the first image below which shows how you can stream Friends if you’re in the United States. There’s no Netflix.
And here’s the same show, only if you’re from the UK. The difference isn’t just Netflix. There are noticeable differences.
To be fair, not all platforms are available across borders or globally. Naturally, some differences and disparities can occur, but imagine the absurdness of a particular situation from the user’s POV.
You’re an honest, paying Netflix subscriber from the United Kingdom
You’re watching Friends
You travel to the US on holiday and want to watch the show
You can’t because of geoblocking
Your only alternative is to subscribe to a separate platform that has the show available on US soil, or you’d have to buy the episodes separately.
This is the exact reason why a lot of people resort to pirating and don’t bother with subscriptions at all. It’s silly to lose access to what you’ve already paid for, right? We aren’t saying that pirating is the best way, but you have to understand the appeal of such a solution…
Are There Any Pros of Geo-Blocking?
More often than not, Geo-Blocking is a nuisance rather than a benefit. Yet, it must be said that in certain cases Geo-Blocking can be the best solution. One of the main benefits is that it allows content creators and distributors to comply with regional regulations and licensing agreements. This ensures that content is distributed legally and appropriately, protecting the rights of creators.
Here‘s another illustration where you can see the main reasons why Geo-blocking must be enforced sometimes.
Moreover, geo-blocking can help businesses tailor their offerings to a specific market or segment. This can boost sales and make the user experience better because users from different countries get localized content, pricing, and promotions. This targeted approach can enhance customer experiences and foster stronger connections with regional audiences.
Additionally, geo-blocking can help manage network traffic and prevent potential security risks by limiting access to specific regions. This safeguarding measure can protect against unauthorized access and potential cyber threats. The same thing works and vice versa if your ISP or government blocks access to malicious websites that spread misinformation, malware, etc.
While Geo-Blocking can be seen as a necessary business or protection strategy in some cases, it is essential for companies and governments to be transparent about their practices and provide users with clear explanations. Transparency helps build trust and allows users to make informed decisions about their online activities. Being transparent from the business standpoint can cause frustration but it should reduce the likeliness of a user resorting to pirating.

Is Geo-Blocking Legal? What are the Ethics Surrounding it?

As we’ve mentioned, the legality of it is a tricky subject. In the EU, within the borders of the bloc, Geo-Blocking is a discriminatory practice that prevents businesses or organizations from discriminating against users based on their nationality, place of residence, or place of establishment. This practically eliminated any kind of price discrimination within the EU borders.
However, this doesn’t mean that Geo-Blocking isn’t prevalent in the EU. A great example of this is gambling and casino websites. Take a look at the map below. You can first focus on the EU and notice the many differences within its borders.
The strange thing is that the EU countries are painted in many different colors. For example, if you’re browsing from Lithuania, you can’t access any foreign online casino, whether it be Dutch, Irish, German, or Cypriot. You first need to change your DNS settings or use a VPN. That’s because Lithuania enforces a ban on foreign online casinos that don’t have a separate license to operate in Lithuanian territory. So, the anti-geo-blocking stance of the EU isn’t limitless. There are quite a few areas where the practice is still strong.
The ethical implications of geo-blocking are a matter of ongoing debate. On one hand, content creators and service providers argue that Geo-Blocking is necessary to protect their intellectual property, maintain fair pricing, and comply with regional regulations. If you’re a business that operates on a multi-national or even intercontinental level, that can be a huge concern. On the other hand, critics argue that it restricts access to information and ignores the principles of a free and open internet whilst also creating room for enforcers to exploit unaware users.

Guides to Bypass Geo-Blocking

If you’re not a fan of geo-blocking, we have some solutions for you. Skyda has three small guides for bypassing any geographical restrictions that you might meet online.
Method #1 – use a VPN or Proxy
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is one of the most common methods used to bypass Geo-Blocking. In fact, it’s so common that stats estimate a 1.5 billion total user count for VPN services.
Virtual Private Networks work by routing your internet traffic through a server located in a different location, thereby masking your actual IP address, and making it appear as though you are accessing the content from an allowed location.
A great illustration that shows how VPNs work.
With most VPNs, you can choose which location you want to appear browsing from. This way you can bypass the nonsensical issues like the one about streaming Friends which we’ve mentioned earlier in the text. Keep in mind that decent VPNs charge a subscription fee but it’s well worth it if you want to improve your privacy online or avoid geo-locking anytime, anywhere. Free VPNs are usually very slow and provide limited use. Besides, many websites can recognize an IP of a free VPN and will still enforce some level of access control. This is why you should look for a premium VPN.
If you’re interested in VPNs, you can read more about them in this blog that we posted earlier (Read More).
Method #2 – Use Browsers With Built-In VPN capabilities
Tor & Cloud-Based browsers can have a built-in VPN or rerouting solution that helps bypass geo-blocking. Opera, for example, has an integrated VPN which works similarly to what we mentioned above but you don’t need to compare various service providers. Your solution is easily accessible.
Tor is a privacy-focused browser that uses onion routing. With Tor, your internet traffic is directed through many proxies (chosen randomly), making your traffic almost impossible to track directly back to you. With that being said, Tor is much slower than a regular browser.
Method #3 – Change Your DNS Configuration
Modern computer and digital technologies can astound with their complexity behind the scenes. You could spend your entire life not even knowing how many steps it takes to open a website. Many people think you just open the browser, type in the address, and it opens. However, in reality it can be much more difficult.
Just take a look at the chart below. This is how many steps need to be completed before a website opens. All of that happens in milliseconds!
So, how can DNS configuration help you bypass geographic restrictions? Well, first you should understand the concept of DNS and what it does. Cloudflare describes it as the phonebook of the internet. DNS translates domain names to IP addresses which allows your browser to load websites.
Unlike a VPN, which routes all your internet traffic through a remote server, Smart DNS only routes the relevant traffic necessary for bypassing Geo-Blocking. You can set it up manually. Cloudflare’s DNS – 1.1.1.1 is amongst the most used solutions. Check out their we bsite to find setup guides. This will improve your privacy and prevent annoying instances of geo-locking (Read more).
Alternatively, some VPN apps do have a built-in SMART DNS feature.
Are there any risks involved?
Bypassing Geo-Blocking could violate terms of service, copyright laws, or other legal agreements, which may lead to consequences. Legal action is very rare but account suspension or deletion isn’t uncommon.
Additionally, using unreliable or unsafe methods to bypass Geo-Blocking can expose you to privacy and security risks.
Will it work 100%?
Not even the most sophisticated DNS, VPN or other bypass solutions can’t guarantee 100 % effectiveness. Websites and services are continuously adapting to detect and block VPNs, proxies, and other bypass methods. Some platforms may employ advanced techniques to prevent access, making it more challenging to bypass their restrictions.
You can often find that bypassing allows limited access. The platform or website that you’re trying to access could notify you like Hey, we know you’re using a VPN, so you can’t take advantage of this promo and so on.

Summary

So, we hope that we answered your questions regarding geo-blocking. Whilst it remains a controversial and highly debatable practice with supporters and critics on both sides of the spectrum, you should be aware of how it works, the legality of it and bypassing methods. This can help you avoid frustration. Using a VPN or configuring your DNS are the most prominent methods for bypassing these obstacles.
Furthermore, if you dislike geo-blocking and you’re concerned about digital privacy, and want a more open, secure internet that’s unrestrictive and free, check out the Skyda app for a private, end-to-end encrypted digital communication with anyone, anytime!
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