Geo-restriction, also known as geo-blocking, is the act of completely blocking or limiting access to internet content based on the physical location of the user. Geoblocking is a common tactic used by international media streaming companies to protect licensing deals. Below I’d like to dive into a deeper explanation answering the questions what is geo-blocking and what is geo-restricting, why they exist, whether or not it’s illegal, and how you can easily defeat it.
Before we go in and answer all the common questions about geo-blocking and geo-restricting, let me give a quick example of how geo-blocking works in real life.
I am an American citizen who currently lives in Thailand. While I enjoy many things about the Thai culture, I admit that I still love listening to my favorite music and watching my favorite shows from back home.
- Geo-Blocking: When I open up Pandora, a popular music streaming app for which I am a paying subscriber, I receive a message telling me “Pandora is unavailable in this country…” I am being blocked from listening to content I have paid for because of my location in Thailand.
- Geo-Restricting: When I open up Netflix in Thailand, although most of the content is the same, a few of my favorite shows are not available like they are in the U.S. I am being restricted from watching certain shows and movies, despite being a paying subscriber, because I am located in Thailand.
Make sense? The two terms are often used interchangeably, but as you can see in the above examples, they are slightly different.
Now, let’s dive into why this even exists.
Note: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may be compensated if you choose to use the services mentioned. I only share what I use personally, though, and I appreciate your support of this free website!
Why Does Geo-Blocking Exist?
Answering the question “What is Geo-blocking” is pretty easy…but why in the world does it even exist? Geo-blocking exists for one of two simple reasons: licensing agreements or internet censorship.
Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and many others license the content that they offer for streaming online. These licensing agreements dictate exactly which parts of the world the content may be streamed.
When you log on to your favorite streaming service, your location is shared and the content is either restricted or entirely blocked based on how the licensing agreements were drawn up.
In the end, it’s really all about the money.
Media producers (movie studios, music labels, etc.) can charge more for these licensing agreements based on the size of the available audience. More countries equals more money.
However, the Netflix and Pandoras know exactly where certain types of content are popular in the world and are only willing to pay for territories that will benefit from the content.
In the end, these licensing agreements are a balancing act between the supply (the type of content offered) and the demand (how desirable that content is in each country).
If you’re thinking to yourself “This is dumb”…you’re absolutely right. Unfortunately, just because it’s ridiculous doesn’t make it illegal.
Is Geo-Blocking Illegal?
No, geo-blocking and geo-restricting aren’t illegal. On the contrary, they are the result of legally-binding contracts agreed to by the streaming companies (Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, etc.).
That being said, it’s understandable that you would be angry when you can’t watch a show or listen to music on a service that you have paid for!
However, as the landscape of online streaming changes, there’s a good chance geo-restricting won’t even be necessary in the future.
Over the past few years, media companies have become wise to the fact that it’s profitable to own both the content and the platform.
This is why Netflix has poured billions of dollars into producing their own movies and TV shows.
This is also why Disney is coming out with it’s own streaming platform Disney+.
If the same company owns both the content and the platform, it’s in their best interest to make it available globally. This fragmentation will slowly kill off geo-restricting.
EXCEPTION! There are some exceptions to this rule, particularly in countries with authoritarian governments that censor the internet. For example, Netflix is blocked in China not because they don’t want to enter the market, but because China has blocked the company from entering.
How Do I Stop Geo-Blocking / Geo-Restriction?
If you’re one of those people that travels internationally or lives in a country with internet censorship (i.e. China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc.), the good news is that there is a way to stop the geo-blocking and geo-restricting of content.
The solution goes by the name Virtual Private Network, or “VPN” for short.
VPNs were initially developed to encrypt data between computers in two different locations. If a company wanted to send sensitive data from their headquarters in Germany to their office in the U.S., they would use a VPN to make sure hackers couldn’t steal the data.
By connecting your computer or mobile VPN to a server in another country, you can access the internet as if you were located in that other country, instead of your actual location. It’s an easy way to stop geo-blocking and geo-restricting of content.
Let’s walk through a real-world example here. Remember the story I shared above about how Pandora told me I couldn’t stream music in Thailand? Well, when I connect to an ExpressVPN server in the U.S., then open the Pandora app, the app thinks that I am in the U.S. and then allows me to listen to music.
The same thing goes for Netflix. In fact, I can connect to different countries to watch certain shows I like, which is how I can watch The Big Bang Theory on Netflix (available only in the U.K. and Japan) or stream Modern Family on Netflix (only available in Germany).
There are literally hundreds of VPN apps you can find, and some that claim to be free – but there are good reasons not to use a free VPN. Most quality VPNs only cost a few dollars per month.
The VPNs that I recommend for evading geo-blocking and geo-restrictions are ExpressVPN or NordVPN, both of which I use daily. You subscribe to the service for a year, download the app on your phone, tablet and computer and then connect when necessary.
ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPNs on the market today, primarily because it’s been so reliable. I use the service daily and they’ve offered readers of ATS a deal to get 3 months of free service when you sign up for a year. Not sure you’ll like it? They have a 30-day money back guarantee.
NordVPN has been the fastest growing service on the market over the past few years, in large part because it’s so easy to use. The apps are well-designed so that even the least tech-savvy can use them. Thankfully, they also have special pricing through this link and have a 30-day money back guarantee.
Final Thoughts | Evading Geo-blocking & Geo-Restrictions
What is Geo-blocking? In short, it’s a means of restricting your ability to access content internationally, which can be extremely annoying. Most of the time, this is done because of licensing agreements, although there are some countries where blocking is done on a national level (i.e. China, Russia, North Korea, etc.).
Geo-restricting isn’t convenient, but the solution of using a VPN is easy.
Did this solution for geo-blocking work for you? Leave a comment below to let me know!