Netflix under pressure to block proxies - analyst

Johannesburg - US video streaming service Netflix has to move to block subscribers from using proxy technologies to access its service if it wants its global launch to be a success.

This is the view of Steven Ambrose who is the chief executive officer of local technology research firm Strategy Worx.

Netflix has announced plans to block proxies and unblockers in the coming weeks after the video service launched in South Africa earlier this month as part of a global launch in 130 countries.

Proxies and unblockers help users ‘fool’ services like Netflix into thinking that they’re using the internet from locations within countries such as the US or the UK.

For years, this has allowed some users in countries like South Africa - where Netflix was previously unavailable - to access the video service. The activity, though, is expected to continue as Netflix’s full range of television shows and films are not available in all parts of the world owing to content rights.

“There's a lot of pressure on Netflix to clean this up, especially now,” Ambrose told Fin24 of the company’s plan to block proxies and unblockers.

“As much as Netflix has got the power to go global and to deliver content everywhere, by the same token, the studios now are in a position to say we're happy for you to go global but please will you respect our rights globally, otherwise we're in trouble with all the various people we signed deals with,” Ambrose explained.

Ambrose explained that Netflix has to strike a balancing act between expanding its content to all regions but respecting its partners in order to stay in business.

"If they disrespect the entire industry, they could go out of business tomorrow,” Ambrose said of Netflix.

Resistance to blocking

The move by Netflix to announce plans to block proxies and unblockers has sparked a reaction from the likes of TorGuard VPN, a popular anonymous proxy service.

“For those of you who rely on TorGuard VPN service to unblock Netflix content unrestricted, you don’t have to worry,” TorGuard wrote in a blog post.

“Netflix will be pushing this plan forward soon, and when that happens, TorGuard will immediately deploy new server IP (internet protocol) addresses so users can still bypass blocks,” the VPN service provider wrote.

Ambrose explained to Fin24 that it could become a cat and mouse game between Netflix and proxies like TorGuard, which may see technology improvements as well.

“Technology is going to advance to the point where they'll hide even more effectively from Netflix and it will open up again,” said Ambrose.

In the meantime, Netflix said in its blog post last week that these technologies continue “to evolve and we are evolving with it”.

“That means in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are,” wrote David Fullagar, who is the vice president of content delivery architecture at Netflix.

“We are confident this change won’t impact members not using proxies,” Fullagar wrote in a blog post.

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