Because content on streaming sites like Netflix is often licensed on a country-by-country basis, geo-restrictions are used to enforce these licensing agreements. National governments also use geo-blocking as a form of censorship — to block illegal content or restrict information the government doesn’t approve. Similarly, if websites are unable or unwilling to comply with national data protection regulations, they must restrict access to that country’s residents.
Examples of geo-blocking
Streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime are probably the most common example of geo-blocking. Netflix streams third-party content as well as original programming, so their ability to stream movies and TV shows in a particular country depends on licensing terms and conditions.
For example, an American TV show may be licensed for exclusive broadcasting on a Spanish TV channel, meaning that Netflix can’t stream that show in Spain — even if they have the rights to do so in other countries — because that would violate the licensing agreement.
And it’s not just individual sites and services that use geo-blocking — geo-blocking is used by national governments to block content that’s illegal in their country, such as gambling or porn sites. Another reason why governments use geo-blocking is to restrict the online information their residents can access.
China is infamous for its so-called Great Firewall, which blocks numerous websites — mostly those based in Western countries. Other authoritarian countries, such as North Korea, Russia, and Iran, use geo-blocking to varying degrees for censorship.
Geo-blocking happens in the US, too. Internet Service Providers sometimes block websites to comply with state or federal law, or to help distribute broadband or regulate traffic, depending on how US net neutrality laws are currently implemented.
How to bypass geo-blocking
You can get around geo-blocking by using VPNs, Smart DNS, proxy servers, and Tor. Depending on which method you use, you can get around location-based content restrictions and also benefit from stronger privacy protections.
Let’s look at the most effective ways to bypass geo-blocking:
VPN (Virtual Private Network)
A VPN is a private and secure connection to any network, public or private. Rather than connecting directly to the network as you would normally, a VPN connects you to a remote VPN server, through which all your internet traffic is funneled and encrypted.
Using a VPN to connect to the internet doesn’t just get around geo-blocking by disguising your IP address, it also keeps your data secure by encrypting your internet traffic. VPNs have lots of benefits, are easy to set up and use, and usually allow you to select a server location, making it easy to access specific geo-restricted content.
A VPN creates a secure tunnel to hide your online activity from your ISP, hackers, and governments.
Some countries and ISPs use VPN blockers to prevent the use of VPNs, but these can be avoided by switching between server locations. And the best VPNs make use of multiple servers, letting you access websites just about anywhere — another reason why less robust, free VPN tools should be avoided.
AVG Secure VPN has hundreds of unique server locations in over 50 countries, so you’ll have no trouble finding the server you need to access the content you love. Along with packing military-grade encryption to keep your online activity private, AVG’s VPN is simple to install and use. Get started with a free trial today.
Smart DNS is a service specifically developed to bypass geo-blocking. Many smart TVs (and even Microsoft) offer a Smart DNS service or app so you can access geo-restricted content wherever you are.
This may sound nice and simple, but setting up a Smart DNS server as a Netflix bypass can be a bit complicated. You’ll likely need to manually adjust your settings and configure the DNS yourself. And because Smart DNS lacks many of the features of a VPN, it doesn’t hide your IP address, leaving you vulnerable to online tracking and other privacy intrusions.
Proxy servers are another way to bypass geo-blocking. A proxy server acts as an alternative gateway to the internet, adding one or more nodes of connection between your device and the web. As with a VPN, because the server is elsewhere, and thus has a different IP address, you can bypass geo-blocks to watch videos or access restricted websites.
Proxy servers act as alternative gateways to the internet, helping bypass location-based restrictions.
When you use a proxy, all internet traffic goes through the proxy server before reaching you, adding another level of privacy and security to your browsing. You can subscribe to automatically configured proxy services, which simplifies the set-up process.
But unlike VPNs, proxy servers don’t encrypt data, so your internet traffic may be vulnerable to snoops depending on the security of the server and the sites you visit through the proxy.
You can also use Tor to bypass geo-blocking. Also known as The Onion Router, Tor encrypts and transmits data through many different servers, ensuring that the data is private and nearly impossible to trace. As every layer of the relay (the Tor servers) is encrypted, your location and online activity is extremely secure. But all these layers of security mean that Tor usually slows down your connection, so trying to watch Netflix can be a chore.
For more information on what the different methods for getting around geo-blocks can do for you (beyond simply skirting geo-based content restriction), check out our in-depth comparison of VPNs, proxies, and Tor.
Is geo-blocking legal?
Geo-blocking access to sites and services is perfectly legal, and it’s widely used in some countries such as China to restrict access to banned content. Geo-blocking is also a legitimate method of enforcing licensing agreements and other legal contracts. Companies use geo-blocking for business reasons, too, such as to implement dynamic pricing.
In some cases, intentionally getting around geo-blocking can be illegal if it’s used to access illegal content or infringe copyrights. Before you access geo-blocked content, do your research and learn why the content was blocked in the first place.
Why would I bypass geo-blocking?
While geo-blocking is legal, there are also perfectly legitimate reasons to bypass geo-blocking and get around website blocks. Even if you don’t live under a repressive regime, there are many ways bypassing internet blockers can enhance your browsing experience.
To stop dynamic pricing
Many ecommerce sites use dynamic pricing, in which the prices of goods and services change depending on geographic location. Dynamic pricing is especially prevalent on hotel and travel booking sites, where prices fluctuate based on demand. Bypassing geo-blocking lets you avoid dynamic pricing and find the best deal.
Bypassing geo-blocking helps you avoid dynamic pricing.
To hide your IP address and location
Your IP address and location are visible to pretty much everyone along the internet connection chain: your ISP, the websites you visit, and sometimes even your own government can find your IP address. Access to that data can compromise your privacy.
Because geo-blocking depends on your location, which is determined by your IP address, the same methods used for bypassing geo-blocking also help mask your true location and IP, and therefore protect your privacy.
To avoid cookies and other web tracking
Cookies are used by websites to track visitors and collect data on their activities. Cookies help websites collect data about how visitors use their websites, providing insights into browsing history, interests, and location.
Cookies can also be used to curate what kind of content you see. They save your preferences (such as language) and help create a smoother browsing experience. But cookies have other applications, too: data brokers can sell the personal information collected from your cookies and help advertisers target you with ads.
To access content while traveling
Traveling to another country changes your IP address, which can affect the content you can access while streaming or doing other things. Bypassing geo-blocking lets you access your favorite shows anytime, anywhere, even if the show isn’t available where you are. And knowing how to bypass country-level restrictions keeps your internet browsing more secure while you travel.
Bypassing geo-blocking helps you access content while traveling.
To unblock restricted content
Some countries use geo-blocking as a form of censorship, to restrict access to certain websites the government deems unacceptable. Bypassing geo-blocking in these countries to unblock restricted websites is especially important for activists and journalists so they can maintain full access to the information ecosystem.
More locally, your ISP may use your IP address to redistribute bandwidth based on internet traffic and what you’re doing. This is referred to as ISP throttling, and happens when your internet connection is deliberately slowed down to manage bandwidth during periods of high traffic. ISP throttling is based on where you are and what you’re doing, so bypassing geo-blocking with a VPN can help you avoid this.
Browse privately with AVG SecureVPN
For a top-of-the-line secure internet connection without compromising speed or ease of use, connect to a VPN whenever you browse. AVG Secure VPN lets you hook up safely to any Wi-Fi network, public or private, via military-grade 256-bit AES encryption. And you can easily bypass geo-restrictions with the click of a button.
With hundreds of unique IP addresses in server locations around the world, AVG Secure VPN lets you enjoy the benefits of a completely private, unrestricted internet connection across all platforms. Try it for free today.