Last Updated: October 4, 2021
The internet was free until geo-restrictions came into the picture. So, what is geo-blocking? Who implements it? Let us explain.
What Is Geo-Blocking?
Geo-blocking is the process of blockading the Web to restrict access to websites by location.
Also called geo-fencing, geo-filtering, or geo locking, this technology makes portions of the Web regional instead of global.
What is geo-blocking used for?
First, we have to shed light on how it works.
How Does Geo-Blocking Work?
Online geo-restriction is possible because of IP (Internet Protocol) addresses.
Those are strings of numbers assigned to electronic devices. They act as geographical identifiers, helping hosting servers know where content requests are coming from.
Phone carriers and ISPs (internet service providers) assign one to the devices of their customers. These companies don’t own the IP addresses they distribute. Rather, they get batches of them from a higher authority.
Since they are location-based, your devices will get a new IP address when you connect them to a different network.
It broadcasts your location to the hardware that contains online content you intend to access. As a result, the operator of a hosting server can choose to grant or deny your request based on your region.
So, what is geo-blocking meant for? Below are the main reasons content owners use it.
Enforcing Licensing Agreements
A license gives a party the rights to use copyrighted material for specific purposes. It’s a way for copyright owners to monetize their properties such as:
- radio and TV shows
Entertainment companies own only the original content they produce. The rest have different legal rights holders.
As defined by licensing contracts, the owners of the copyrighted material get to decide where it can be available. It’s not up to the buyers of licensing rights.
Therefore, content providers have to impose geographical restrictions to avoid breaching their agreements with copyright owners.
Even before the internet, location blocker cases were not unheard of. Sports blackouts are a prime example.
Sports fans, particularly in the United States, know that they can’t always watch the games they want. Content owners (sports leagues) and distributors (media companies) enter into billion-dollar agreements. These contracts dictate which parties can distribute which games in which areas.
TV broadcasting networks and cable companies bid against one another for distribution rights. Online players have increased the competition further.
That’s why some sporting events are available nationally (or even internationally). And others are only for regional or local audiences. Sometimes, online content may not fill the airwaves.
Live games can be unavailable in certain locations. Residents in restricted areas will only be able to enjoy them at a later time.
You won’t be able to watch them from where you live unless you buy tickets for your favorite teams’ games. Due to geographic restrictions, buying multiple TV and streaming subscriptions may not be enough.
Entertainment companies have to deal with the licensing regulations of countries too.
The cost of providing certain content can vary by jurisdiction. Content providers have to purchase licensing rights and pay taxes in different countries. These expenses can add up significantly.
Entertainment businesses buy licensing rights only when it’s commercially viable to do so. They use geo IP blocking to block markets they deem not profitable enough to serve.
Sometimes, geo-blocking doesn’t lead to website access restriction. An IP geo-block may simply change the version of the information you can view according to your location.
Companies that operate globally don’t necessarily see the world as one huge market. Actually, they view geographical regions as individual ones.
That’s why price uniformity isn’t always the norm. Businesses may charge buyers from various countries different amounts for similar goods and/or services.
The practice is common in the tourism industry. For instance, an airline’s domestic flights might be more expensive to foreign customers than to local ones.
This form of price discrimination is rampant in retail too.
Likewise, content providers use geo-blocked content for marketing purposes. Streaming platform operators may stagger the release dates of movies, TV shows, etc. As a result, some markets get to watch certain pieces of content ahead of others.
Is there a method to this madness?
Entertainment companies may use IP address blocks by country to beat piracy.
A location blocker may compel consumers to use copyrighted material illegally. But prioritizing markets with little qualms about piracy may satisfy demand across borders.
Also, content providers may use geo-restrictions to create a sense of exclusivity.
Sought-after content that isn’t accessible by most is highly valuable. Legal rights owners or license holders will be able to sell it for more money without increasing their costs.
To businesses, geo-restrictions are effective tools to maximize their profits. To consumers, IP address blocks by country may seem unfair. That’s why many of us want to know how to unblock the likes of Netflix, and Spotify when we need to.
Banning Illegal Content
A private entity doesn’t always impose a website access restriction at will. Sometimes, the laws and regulations in jurisdictions force businesses to restrict access to their goods and/or services.
For example, anti-gambling legislation may compel online casinos, betting sites, and the like to reject traffic from certain locations.
What’s illicit in one country may be perfectly acceptable in another. However, some governments go overboard with internet censorship.
What is geo-blocking designed to do in undemocratic societies?
Repressive regimes tend to block most of the Web to control the behavior of internet users. They heavily police cyberspace to silence dissidents.
Extreme internet censorship is characteristic of dictatorships and less democratic republics. Authoritarian governments strictly regulate what individuals and businesses can do on the internet.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is infamous for geo IP blocking.
Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are just some of the popular American sites banned in mainland China. These sites have local equivalents, whose operators are more willing to satisfy the whims of President Xi Jinping.
The disappearance of candle and cake emojis on Chinese Twitter Weibo was recent evidence of the CCP’s abuse of geo-restrictions.
The government removed the icons from the platform on the eve of Tiananmen Square Massacre’s anniversary. The move was meant to suppress any online commemoration of this tragic event.
North Korea is another communist nation that’s notorious for digitally isolating its residents from the rest of the world.
Ordinary North Koreans can only use the country’s intranet called Kwangmyong. The internet that we know is accessible by just the hermit kingdom’s elites. Most of them are high-ranking government officials.
How To Bypass Geo-Blocking
Unless you can mask your original IP address, there’s no avoiding geo-restrictions.
If you want to know how to get around blocked sites, you should consider using the following:
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks)
A VPN is an internet privacy tool that can disguise your location. A good one can reliably help you access content blocked in your country.
Although its safety depends on a multitude of factors, it also can secure your online communications with encryption.
In another piece, we’ve already explained what VPN is and how it can render geo-restriction useless at length. But we want to emphasize a usual downside to them: reduced internet speed.
When you install a VPN on Android, iOS, macOS, or Windows, your data stream doesn’t flow directly to a hosting server. Rather, it passes through a VPN server first before reaching its intended destination.
This extra stop increases your data’s travel time. The farther your chosen VPN server’s location is, the longer it would take for you to access your requested information.
Using VPN hardware along with lots of other users at the same time can drive down your internet speed too.
Too much demand can push individual servers to the limit, drastically affecting their efficiency. That’s why it’s wise to use a VPN vendor with a large global network.
Strongly encrypted web traffic is harder to move between servers. It can pose a problem when doing a high-bandwidth task.
All VPN service providers promise fast speed. But many underdeliver on this front. For best results, you should consider using the leading VPNs instead of the less established ones.
If you’re curious about how to bypass geo-blocking without sacrificing performance, then you should learn about proxies.
A proxy is a server that requests the online resource you want on behalf of your device. You can use this intermediary’s IP address to get around blocked sites in your region.
Proxies and VPNs work the same way, except that the former doesn’t scramble traffic data. In other words, rerouting your data streams to proxy servers involves no encryption. But because of this, you can browse the internet much faster.
If you haven’t used a proxy service before, don’t just use any provider. You should be selective about your options to safeguard your privacy. You won’t go wrong with any of the trusted ones, though.
Smart DNS (Domain Name Server)
A Smart DNS can spoof your location by changing your ISP-assigned IP address when accessing geo-blocked content.
This service uses a global network of DNS servers. You can select any hardware in the fleet, enabling you to prevent geo-blocked sites from detecting your real location.
Smart DNS services sound similar to VPNs and proxies, but there’s one big difference. Their providers don’t attempt to route all of your traffic through their servers. Rather, they don’t expose your actual IP address when connecting to any of the sites on their lists.
Therefore, you won’t be able to access all of the sites in a region you can’t view with a Smart DNS. You may only unblock the specific ones your chosen vendor can.
Normally, a Smart DNS service is sold separately from VPNs and/or proxies. The good thing is that we’ve found some VPN vendors that natively support the functionality. CactusVPN and VeePN are the first that come to mind.
Tor (The Onion Router)
Tor is open-source software that can help you bypass geo-blocking and surf the open web anonymously. It can accomplish this onion routing.
This is a technique of obscuring online communications by transmitting them through a worldwide network of computers (called nodes).
Once your traffic data enters the Tor network, it would bounce from one node to another, encrypting it multiple times. The network would decrypt the layers of encryption encapsulating your data streams as they make their way to the exit node.
The sites you intend to view won’t be able to know your location. In turn, you can watch geo-blocked videos and access other kinds of content.
When you finally access the sites, people behind them wouldn’t have a clue about where you’re located on the planet.
Tor is accessible only through its own browser. Its setup can be difficult for average internet users. Since volunteers power the Tor network, speed can be a problem. For this reason, it’s more suitable for anonymous browsing than for streaming.
Despite the inherent downsides to this tech, you can still benefit from it without dealing with its negatives.
Geo-blocking is all about control.
It has legitimate uses, but it’s prone to abuse too. Malicious parties use webpage blocking to discriminate and/or to manipulate.
Irrespective of the situation, geographical restrictions can be inconvenient and frustrating. Sadly, they may never go out of fashion. But at least you don’t have to put up with them!
With the right tool, you’ll be able to access the content you want whenever you run into a digital wall.
Geo-restrictions make it possible to license copyrighted material properly. Businesses use IP blockers to segment markets by location.
Likewise, geo blocking enables governments to enforce laws and meaningfully bar their citizens from accessing illegal content like online gambling.
The authorities, however, could also abuse this technology. Repressive regimes use it as a tool for internet censorship.
No, it isn’t.
Geo-blocking is widespread because this practice is widely accepted. Some countries are beginning to draw the line, though.
In 2018, the European Union adopted a policy that disallows geographic restrictions for content not protected by copyright. This regulation forbids ecommerce merchants from employing discriminatory practices.
Many people find this anti-geo blocking policy lacking. Nevertheless, it’s a step in the right direction.
If you’re wondering how to bypass geo blocking successfully, you can use:
- Smart DNS services
- Tor (The Onion Router)
All of the above can hide your original IP address and help you consistently view geo restricted content. But each one comes with its own sets of advantages and disadvantages.
To learn more about these tools and answer basic questions like what is geo blocking, read our article above.