How to Avoid the Netflix VPN Ban
If you’ve recently opened up Netflix on your computer only to find the dreaded “proxy error” message staring you in the face, you’ve probably just learned for the first time that Netflix bans VPNs. But how exactly does Netflix ban these services, and more importantly: how can you avoid the Netflix VPN ban altogether?
Read on in our guide to find out everything you need to know about how the system works, and how you can get around it most effectively and with the least amount of effort.
How Netflix bans VPNs
To start, it helps to get a bit of a crash course in how Netflix bans VPNs, as well as a short detour into why the company engages in this practice in the first place.
Although the true methods that Netflix employs to detect and ban the use of a VPN on your account is a closely guarded secret by the company, many experts in the industry assume they use the simplest (and generally most effective) technique of all: IP blacklisting.
Prior to the ban, VPN owners could simply log into the country-based server of their choice, connect to Netflix, and Netflix would automatically assume they were viewing from that location due to the way that IP addresses are registered in the global database.
Say for example that you were located in the US but wanted to see what the UK version of Netflix had on offer in its library. All you would need to do before March 2016 was connect to a VPN server in London, fire up Netflix, and you were good to go.
Nowadays however, Netflix is constantly hunting for any IP addresses that are associated with VPN services and banning them from being able to stream any content off their servers. Again, how exactly Netflix figures out which IP addresses are tied to VPN services and which are tied to individual ISP customers is the stuff of hearsay and speculation, but we assume it’s a combination of machine-learning algorithms and hand-picked blacklisting that brings everything into focus for the company’s backend engineers.
Once a VPN-based IP address is discovered, it’s added to the “blacklist”, which means that as soon as you sign on you’ll be greeted with the error message that everyone loves to hate -- “Oops! Something went wrong”.
Why does Netflix ban VPNs
We covered this subject in greater detail in a companion article of the same name, but in so many words it all comes down to one thing: money. See, Netflix pays different amounts for the licenses to certain content depending on the region they plan to feature it in due to the disparity in subscriber numbers between different countries as well as which distributors have the rights to sell content in a particular place in the world.
For example, the US currently boasts about 56 million subscribers (as of early 2019), while the UK only has around 7.5 million. This means it’s much cheaper for Netflix to buy the rights for a show or movie in the UK than it is in the US, because far fewer people will actually have the chance to watch it in that specific country.
This is supposedly one of the major reasons why Netflix studios has begun spending literal billions on producing their own content in-house, because if they own the content from front to back then they can show it in every one of their 200 markets without worrying about the difference of how much a copyright license costs in the US compared to Croatia.
When the ban went into effect Netflix was hinting at their plans to try and get some kind of “globalized content strategy” off the ground where they could negotiate a flat price with distributors and studios which would allow them to feature every show and movie they buy in every market they function in. Thus far however, it’s been over two years since we heard anything on the subject and the company hasn’t publicly made any noise about how much progress has been made on that front or when we can expect the deal to go through in the foreseeable future.
So, until that day comes, frequent travelers and content freedomists (a term I just coined) will be stuck with only one other option available to them: bypassing the Netflix VPN ban entirely.
How to bypass the Netflix VPN ban
To get around the Netflix VPN ban, you have multiple avenues available to you depending on both the platform you’re viewing on (desktop vs. TV, for example), as well as how technically savvy you are with more complicated networking tasks as a whole.
Use a bigger VPN that bypasses Netflix
So, knowing what we know about the Netflix VPN ban, how is it that some VPNs can still advertise the ability to easily bypass the service’s detection methods without any problems? Well, the answer is twofold. First, many of the lower-tier VPNs (read: VPNs that operate on a more barebones network) often purchase their IP address blocks in bulk. Netflix can keep track of which IPs are being purchased this way and will often ban them before the service even has a chance to implement their distribution to customers, and usually most will be banned within just a few days.
The higher-tier VPNs (those with subscriber numbers in the hundreds of thousands or millions) can afford to go a different route with how they run their own networks. Rather than buying IP addresses in bulk, they can selectively purchase blocks and then as soon as a block is blacklisted, repeat the process ad infinitum. Why don’t smaller VPNs do this? Quite simply, the network infrastructure required to achieve this kind of adaptive purchasing and implementation of new blocks on the fly as they get blacklisted is expensive, and only the most prolific VPN providers with a large warchest of cash can afford to keep up the fight on a daily basis.
Though it seems counterintuitive, it turns out that the more popular VPNs with higher visibility and user numbers are often the most adept at getting around the very same ban that Netflix hoped would initially put them out of business.
Although this list is constantly in flux, some of the best VPNs out there right now which also offer the ability to get around the Netflix VPN ban include (but aren’t limited to): ExpressVPN, NordVPN, PrivateVPN, Hotspot Shield, and CyberGhost VPN.
The major benefit of using one of these larger providers (aside from their assured access) is that they’ll also work across dozens of different devices, including your PC, your TV (if installed on a router), as well as any mobile devices you have including smartphones and tablets.
This is why we recommend going this route over any others, because although many people do watch Netflix on their desktop or laptop, the true experience of being able to access a different country’s Netflix library on your TV at home or your smartphone at the gym simply can’t be beat.
Use a smaller VPN that flies under Netflix’s radar
Contrasting this approach, there are several much smaller VPNs that still work on Netflix simply for the fact that they’re so small, Netflix doesn’t even recognize they’re on the map. These VPNs are able to get through the ban for the exact opposite reason as the big guys: their user numbers are so small that Netflix never detects an issue with the IP blocks they use, meaning that they can fly under the radar seemingly indefinitely.
The problem with this approach is that all it takes is a particularly small VPN to get one too many subscribers using the Netflix service for the company to pick them up on the graph and see that the IP block belongs to a provider rather than an individual. Although this approach does technically work, it’s not recommended for a number of reasons including the one previously mentioned as well as the fact that most of the smaller VPNs have an equally small number of servers available in various countries.
This means you may be restricted to only a few select Netflix libraries like those available in the US or the UK, but as soon as you want to see what the Japanese VPN has on offer you’ll quickly be out of luck. That combined with the service’s inability to adapt in the case of their IP block being banned makes it a less preferable option than going with a large VPN provider who can guarantee you consistent service throughout the course of your membership.
Make your own VPN
The next option is more technically complicated and will put pretty severe limitations on what is or isn’t possible to view on Netflix, but is also a surefire way to guarantee that your VPN usage will never be detected for as long as you pay for your own IP block.
The process of creating your own VPN is a bit cumbersome, so rather than explain it here we’re going to let the experts over at TechCrunch handle the heavy lifting and get you up to speed on everything you need to know about creating your own VPN, managing the network, as well as letting you know around how much you should expect to spend on it out of pocket by the time all is said and done.
In short, here’s a list of the steps you should expect to take during the process:
- Start by creating an account on a cloud hosting provider like DigitalOcean
- Next, download Algo VPN on your computer and unzip it
- Install the dependencies with thecommand lines on this page
- Run the installation
- Click the configuration profiles in the configs directory
Keep in mind that generally this approach means you’ll only have access to one or two server locations in total, or you’ll have to keep purchasing new IPs in new areas every time you want to access a different Netflix library.
Not only that, but the major limitation here is that you’ll only be able to watch on your desktop that can support this specific kind of VPN connection, ruling any mobile/home theater choices out unless you go the ultimate technical route of installing the custom VPN on your home router. And again, even with that you’ll be left out in the cold when you head out of the house and try to use the VPN on your phone, save for the complicated process of running an OpenVPN build on your LTE connection and running the tunnel through there instead.
You do technically get the most flexibility with this approach (as well as the freedom of not being beholden to a larger VPN company’s subscription model), but aside from the small benefit of it being cheaper, the mere technical hassle of getting it all working the way you want without it breaking down mid-stream is often less worth it than just going with a major VPN provider instead.
Finally, a word about copyright
To be clear, VPN.com does not endorse violating Netflix’s TOS and warns you to always be smart about how you approach any of the tools mentioned in this article.
But paying customers have rights too, and we at VPN.com believe anyone with access to the web should be able to stream all the content that’s out there without being concerned about the arbitrary restrictions streaming services (and more importantly the studios that keep them stuck in bad content contracts) place on them.