Netflix VPN restriction targets privacy seekers
Wed 11 May 2016
Open Media, a Canadian internet-advocacy group, published an open letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings today, arguing that Netflix’s recent crackdown on VPN users unfairly targets those who use VPN technology for privacy reasons, rather than those who use VPN to access restricted content. Open Media has the support of almost 45,000 people who have signed an online petition entitled “My Netflix, My Privacy” that encourages Netflix to “stand up to big media bullies and do not block pro-privacy VPN technology.”
In the letter, Laura Tribe, Digital Rights Specialist for Open Media, says that Netflix’s practice of blocking VPN access in order to enforce national licensing restrictions is a ‘huge problem’ for people who use VPN technology to protect their privacy online.
She writes, “VPNs are one of the best and most accessible tools that Internet users have to protect our privacy. Whether it’s from malicious criminal activities, government surveillance and censorship, or simply connecting to a weakly-secured hotel wi-fi system, our personal and private digital information is constantly being put at risk and made vulnerable online,” adding, “We shouldn’t have to choose between Netflix and privacy.”
She also takes offense to Hasting’s comments on a recent Netflix earnings call, (see approx. 7:30 in linked video) where he referred to the users affected by Netflix’s VPN crackdown as a ‘small but vocal minority’ whose effects were ‘inconsequential to us’. Tribe says, “Well, we’re not small, and we’re not insignificant – but you did get one thing right: we are vocal. And we think it’s important that our voices be heard. So far nearly 45,000 people have joined our campaign asking you to not block pro-privacy VPN technology.” She also requests a meeting with Hastings to discuss non-VPN options with the company.
A study by Nordvpn, a North American VPN provider, shows that when VPN crackdowns occur, piracy is more likely. They found that 84% of Netflix users surveyed would be likely to pirate content due to restrictions, and that 61% might leave Netflix altogether as a result of the new policies.
While Netflix has admitted questions exist on the effectiveness of attempting to use VPN blocking technology to stop unauthorized access to restricted content, that hasn’t stopped the company from trying.