Netflix has been cracking down on users leveraging VPNs to access content that may be restricted in their country of residence. Recently, in an effort to curtail the use of VPNs, Netflix blocked many IPv6 users from accessing its popular streaming service.
Some users of Hurricane Electric's Tunnelbroker (6in4) service, as well as Charter's IPv6 rapid deployment (6rd), and a few other ISPs without tunneling services were affected, according to discussions on the North American Network Operators' Group (NANOG) mailing list. When asked about the newly-instated block, Netflix support representatives have instructed users to tell their ISP to remove VPN connections, or disable IPv6 entirely.
SEE: Netflix, you got some splainin' to do (CNET)
Because of infrastructure issues—most typically, transit providers in certain locations without IPv6 service to local ISPs—transitional technologies like 6in4 and 6rd are necessary for users who require IPv6 connectivity. Hurricane Electric's free IPv6 tunnel service is not advertised as being an anonymizing VPN, and does not function as one by any meaningful definition of the term, as their WHOIS service provides the IPv4 address of the subscriber—the same IP address that would otherwise be analyzed by Netflix.
The logical means of solving this problem is simply to fallback to IPv4, though Netflix has not implemented this behavior. For a client-side fix, users of Hurricane Electric's Tunnelbroker can use this script to send a blank AAAA response for Netflix domains, thereby forcing the connection back to IPv4 without having to disable IPv6 entirely.
Tunneling in, tunneling out, going in circles
Ignoring the semantics of "tunneling" versus "VPN" for now, consider the situation from a complete perspective: A Netflix subscriber who pays for access using an American credit card, with an American billing address, with an IPv6 address that geolocates to the United States, and an IPv4 address that geolocates to the United States, and is physically present in the United States is blocked from using Netflix due to their inability to reliably determine that the user is where the preponderance of evidence indicates that they are.
This is not a user problem, this is a Netflix problem. Based on the behavior of the blocking rules, it can be surmised that the analysis is performed on the amount of traffic coming from multiple accounts on a single IP address. This obviously would not scale well to IPv6, considering that Hurricane Electric can provide a /48 prefix, and with 20.8% of the United States on IPv6, telling users to disable IPv6 to use their service is unreasonable and detrimental to the very necessary task of IPv6 adoption.
Bearing in mind that Netflix is contractually bound by production companies to geographically restrict content to countries for which it has a license to distribute that content, the technical implementation of this rule is overly simplistic, and hostile to paying subscribers. There is no apparent relationship between billing information and the geolocation of a user.
For a user with an Australian credit card and billing address, attempting to access the American Netflix catalog would necessarily be an activity that would require scrutiny to ensure that they are not using a VPN. For the aforementioned American user, using a tunnel for which the origin and end points are both within the United States serves no purpose in circumventing content restrictions—there is nothing to gain by spoofing the location you are already in.
The problem with Geoblocking
While American users enjoy the largest Netflix catalog, users in other countries have less options. From a European perspective, the Digital Single Market initiative of the European Commission was founded in an attempt to close the digital gap as physical trade has been similarly eased throughout Europe. According to the unofficial Netflix online Global Search, there are 1,811 videos available in France, while Luxembourg has 2,004 and Malta has 1,510—despite all three countries being EU members.
MEP Julia Reda launched the "End Geoblocking" campaign to address the situation, which she characterizes as "the most anachronistic, un-European, un-digital practice on the web," which "[deprives] artists and European startups of a large audience and customer base."
Share your experiences
Have you been blocked from accessing Netflix due to IPv6 use? Do you pay for a TV license, yet find yourself unable to steam this content while traveling abroad? Share your experiences in the comments.
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James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.