What is geo-blocking and why isn’t everything available in your country

Geo-blocking is a way of limiting access to certain websites based on geographical location. It’s most prevalent in the video streaming industry, but it’s also used as a means to restrict access to social media, dating sites, news sites, etc.

Speaking of streaming, it mostly boils down to licensing and copyright issues. Let’s take Netflix as an example. Why does every country have a different Netflix library? Certainly not because they can, but because they have to.

Even though there are increasingly more originals on Netflix, most movies and TV shows there belong to other movie and television studios. Thus, Netflix has to play by their rules.

When a Hollywood movie studio invests millions of dollars into making a movie, they understandably want to make that money back and then earn a profit. So, they waste no time enforcing strict copyright laws to earn as much money as they possibly can.

Apart from streaming geo-blocks, there’s also an issue of censorship. Although this problem might seem like something only imposed by oppressive governments, the scope of it has been increasing alarmingly in many democratic countries. According to researchers from the University of Cambridge, more than 60 countries engage in some form of state-sponsored censorship.

Of course, there are other unfortunate reasons for geo-restrictions; for example, a shopping website doesn’t have the means to ship its products to a specific country.

Generally, the main reasons for geo-blocking can be summed up in two bullet points:

  • Copyright and licensing issues
  • Censorship

But how do studios and governments impose geo-blocking? For that, let’s jump to the next section.

How does geo-blocking work?

Geo-blocking works by tracking your Internet Protocol (IP) address. In simple terms, your IP address is like your real home address – it gives away your location. 

This is how it goes:

  • Your laptop, phone, and each device connected to the internet have IPs, which are provided by your internet service provider (ISP). Therefore, your ISP knows where you are, what devices you use, and what you do online.
  • When you visit a website, the IP address of your network is sent to the server, so it knows where it has to send the content.
  • Although your IP address is not significant on its own, using specialized software, it is possible to track your online behavior effortlessly, monitor which websites you visit and when.
  • To some extent, it is possible to know the geographical location of your device. This is how a site ‘knows’ from which country you are accessing.
  • Then, website administrators apply geo-blocking based on this information.

Geo-blocking also applies when traveling. Meaning, if you are an American visiting France, you will only access the content available in France.

Or, if you’re in Iran, for example, you can’t use Airbnb (one of the most popular trip and accommodation planning apps) due to the US sanction laws.

geo-blocking in iran

Despite attempts at geo-blocking, there are ways to access the free and open internet. What are they, and what do you need to do? Read on.

How to bypass geo-blocking?

how to bypass geo-blocking with surfshark

A VPN is the most effective way to safely and privately bypass geo-blocking. It masks your real IP address and substitutes it with the one that’s based in a different country.

Getting a VPN is easy and usually inexpensive. Most VPNs are compatible with iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows operating systems. For example, Surfshark also allows you to download the VPN on Chrome and Firefox, Linux, FireTV, AppleTV (+ other smart TVs), Xbox, and Playstation.

How to get started with a VPN?

  1. Go to your chosen VPNs website or an app store on your device.
  2. Download the app.
  3. Install a VPN by following installation instructions.
  4. Create an account or log in.
  5. Choose a country (server) that will grant you access to the website you’re trying to reach.
  6. Connect to the server and enjoy the open internet!

It’s that simple.

Once you install the VPN, you’ll be able to access geo-blocked content in the form of:

  • Video streaming sites, including movies, TV shows, and sports
  • Social media sites and messaging apps
  • News sites
  • Gaming platforms
  • Dating sites and apps
  • Other regionally unavailable content

Unblock restricted websites

Internet service providers (ISPs) in around 30 countries block access to The Pirate Bay. The UK, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Malaysia, among others, experience trouble when trying to connect to the biggest torrenting website. And that’s just one of many examples of ISPs or the government restricting internet access.

I could sit here all day listing what’s blocked, where and why, but one thing is clear: A VPN helps to bypass government-induced censorship. In this case, a VPN not only plays a role in reducing internet censorship, but it also fully secures your data from the prying eyes.

Access geo-restricted streaming sites

From movie and television streaming sites like Netflix to sports streaming on BBC iPlayer – a VPN takes care of those troubles.

Here’s an example of bypassing geo-blocking to watch new episodes of Survivor.

If you don’t live in the US and don’t have cable, it can be tricky finding ways to watch the newest episode of your favorite reality TV show, unless you connect to the right VPN server.

The streaming site globaltv.com provides new episodes of Survivor, but it’s only available within the Canadian borders.

restricted content on global TV

What to do? Open your VPN and choose one of the Canadian servers.

surfshark connect to Canada

Refresh the page and enjoy the show!

watch geo-blocked content with surfshark vpn

Some of the most popular streaming sites that you can unlock with Surfshark:

  • Netflix (Surfshark unlocks 15+ Netflix libraries!)
  • Disney+
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • BBC iPlayer
  • HBO Now
  • Hulu
  • DAZN
  • Hotstar
  • Sky Go
  • YLE Areena
  • AbemaTV
  • And many others

Avoid price discrimination

Do you know that your location can affect the price you pay for a product or a service? It’s called price discrimination. It’s widely practiced in many industries, but most commonly noticeable when looking for plane tickets, hotel bookings, and other travel essentials.

Fluctuating plane ticket prices can increase due to the website “remembering” that you’ve visited this exact deal before. It’s called cookies, and it’s often used in targeted advertising.

When you use a VPN, the website “thinks” you’re a different person. That makes the application of targeted pricing tactics more difficult.

Next time you’re planning a trip and looking for plane tickets, try playing around with a VPN. Change locations (experiment with countries across different continents) and see how the price fluctuates.

Other ways to bypass geo-restrictions

Although a VPN is the most effective and advanced way to unlock geo-blocked websites and media, several other options might work in some specific cases.

Proxy servers

A proxy server stands in between you and the website you’re trying to reach, acting as some sort of a “middleman” (or a separate computer). Since every device that’s connecting to the internet has its IP address, so does a Proxy server. When you connect to the internet through a proxy, it grants you a different IP address before redirecting you to the website you’re trying to access.

Proxies can be successful when you want to get around website blocks, but they’re not as secure and effective as a VPN. A VPN protects all the traffic that goes through your device. Meanwhile, a proxy only works within the borders of a specific website or application.

There’s a ton of free proxy services offered online, and free usually doesn’t equal good, especially when there’s privacy, security, and complex encryption algorithms at play.

Tor browser

Tor is another way to bypass geo-restrictions. It works like any other browser – Chrome, Safari, etc. You can open all the regular websites, as well as special .onion sites that are only available on the Tor network.

For example, The New York Times has an .onion site, meaning that if you want to read the newspaper anonymously, you can do that through Tor.

However, Tor doesn’t offer security that a VPN does. Your ISP can detect that you’re using Tor, and because of the bad reputation that Tor has, they can become suspicious of your online activities. Also, unlike a VPN, Tor is extremely slow due to its architecture.

If you wish to use Tor, do it safely alongside a no-logs VPN like Surfshark.

Smart DNS and DNS changers

A Domain Name System (DNS) makes domain names, like Facebook, readable. Imagine if every time you wanted to go to Facebook, you’d have to type in a long sequence of numbers instead of a short, 8-letter name. You have to thank DNS for making it easier.

When you use Smart DNS or DNS changers (a.k.a. DNS resolvers), they change DNS servers on your device from local ones to DNS servers based in a different country.

If a website uses DNS level blocks to deny access to users in particular countries, then using Smart DNS or DNS changer will do the job.

However, there are many drawbacks of changing DNS for unblocking regionally restricted content. It doesn’t change your IP address, it doesn’t encrypt your data, and it doesn’t unlock everything. Again, you’ll be better off using a VPN, since it offers much more functionality and security.

Is geo-blocking legal?

The Council of the European Union calls geo-blocking a discriminatory practice that prevents member states from purchasing goods from one another. For this reason, the Council banned unjustified geo-blocking within the EU. However, the law only regards the strategy to turn the European Union into a single market.

In 2018, when tackling the Digital Single Market, the EU also made it an obligation for paid content providers to offer the cross-border portability feature to the subscribers who are in the EU. The EU citizens now can take their local digital media to other EU countries trouble-free.

Geo-blocking can also seem illegal in cases when the government blocks access to widely used social media sites (e.g., Facebook or Twitter). More often than not, less democratic countries (such as China, Russia, dabble in similar censorship practices.

When it comes to streaming sites getting geo-restricted, it’s usually licensing and copyright deals; especially, in the US or the UK. In these cases, it’s legal to impose geo-blocking because the decision depends on copyright holders.

Conclusion

Although I’ve discussed the cases of how geo-blocking can be justified, the decision and power to choose should not be taken away from the user.

It’s fair to say that censorship cannot be justified. But restricting access to content due to short-sighted licensing deals is not a fair practice user-wise. People still pay subscription fees for streaming services, just like everyone else does. Copyright holders get their share of that, but since they’re focused on the highest earnings they can obtain, they want to be able to arrange different fees for different countries.

At the end of the day, paying customers should be able to access geo-blocked content hassle-free.

Bypass country restrictions in the most effective way with Surfshark

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