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What Is Geo Blocking & How Can You Bypass Geo Restrictions?

What Is Geo Blocking & How Can You Bypass Geo Restrictions?

Have you ever tried to watch a YouTube video, Netflix show, or listen to a track from an artist you like only to be met with a message telling you “the service/content isn’t available in your area.”? That right there is geo blocking in action, and it’s a widespread issue all around the globe.

If you’re not familiar with the topic, you’ll learn all you need to know in this article – what geo blocking is, if it’s legal or not, and – most importantly – how to remove geo blocking notifications for good.

What Is Geo Blocking?

Geo-restrictions or geo blocking is the processes of limiting access to online content for some users based on their geographical location.

A good example of geo blocking is you trying to access Pandora Radio or Netflix US from outside the US. When you try to do that, you’ll just get a message letting you know the service isn’t available in your country, or get redirected to your country’s version of said website that usually contains limited content.

Why Is Geo Blocking Used?

Geo-restrictions are usually enforced by major content providers like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, or any other company that has to follow strict content-related copyright regulations. You see, content providers don’t always own the rights to all the content they offer, so it’s not up to them whether or not they make it available worldwide, but up to the legal rights holders.

What’s more, licensing regulations come into play too. Essentially, for a content provider to offer access to their content in every country, they’d need to purchase licensing rights from each individual country. That can amount to a huge sum – especially when you consider any additional taxes the provider might have to pay. As a result, geo blocking is used to make sure licensing regulations aren’t breached.

bypass geo blocking

Sometimes, geo restrictions might be related to a specific legal situation in a country. For example, in the UK, a lot of the content on display is made with taxpayer money. So, geo restrictions are used to make sure only UK taxpayers have access to UK content. Another way laws influence geo blocking is with online casinos, as they need to restrict access to users depending on the country they connect from to comply with online gambling laws.

There’s also the case of blackouts – geo blocking that usually takes place in sports, and involves streaming and broadcasting companies not being able to stream a specific sporting event in a region or area where:

  • The event is already being broadcasted locally.
  • National networks have exclusive distribution rights.
  • Said sporting event is taking place.

Besides those reasons, blackouts are also enforced to ensure the contractual agreements between content owners (like sports leagues, associations, and networks) are respected.

Geo Blocking Has Its “Dark Side” Too

Geo restrictions can also be used for more nefarious purposes, like enforcing price discrimination – technology based on geo restrictions which can be used by online retailers to display different prices to users based on their geographical locations.

That’s usually the case with airlines, but it’s not something only they do. Price discrimination allows online businesses to charge users from more developed countries more to get a better profit, and also to limit access or use different offers for their products depending on a user’s location to divide the world into market segments.

How Do Geo Restrictions Work?

While websites and various businesses have different approaches to geo blocking, one thing is mostly the same – they can restrict access to online content and services based on your IP address.

You see, every device connected to the internet has a unique IP address assigned to it by an Internet Service Provider. Among many things, the address is used to determine the geo-location of the device.

Geo restrictions

Basically, when your computer tries to access a server, its IP address is sent in the connection request. This way, the server knows where the requested content needs to be sent. Depending on whether or not the server is “allowed” to display the requested content to IP addresses from certain geographical regions, it will either respond with the requested data, or not do it and redirect you to a difference page instead.

Simply put, when you connect to a website, it knows what your IP address is. And since your IP address contains information that reveals your real geo-location, the website knows if it can or can’t display the requested content to you.

Geo blocking is a pretty gray area when it comes to whether it’s legal or not. Generally, it varies by country. In places like the US, Australia, and Canada, for example, geo-restrictions are considered pretty normal since they’re necessary for complete compliance with copyright and licensing agreements.

For now, it seems that only the EU is starting to take a serious stand against geo blocking, though things are still far from perfect.

At the start of 2018, the EU adopted a ban on “unjustified geo blocking.” Despite its name, it’s worth mentioning that the ban doesn’t apply if “geo blocking is necessary to ensure compliance with legal requirements,” essentially giving the ban a loophole. Also, the so-called geo block ban doesn’t apply to media like video games and eBooks, for example.

It’s not all bad, though – in April 2018, the EU adopted new digital media portability regulations, requiring content providers that offer paid services to offer a type of “roaming” within the EU (letting a user from the UK enjoy the same UK content in a different EU country, for instance). Platforms like NOW TV have already made changes to comply with the regulations, though there’s still usually a 30-day limit that prevents you from accessing content that’s normally geo-blocked for “too long.”

How to Bypass Geo Blocking

Obviously, since geo restrictions are based on your IP address, the best way to bypass geo blocking is to find a way to hide it. While it might sound difficult, you can actually use four methods to mask your IP address (or geo-location) when you’re on the Internet:

1. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)

VPNs are the most popular method to bypass geo blocking. A VPN hides your real IP address by replacing it with the IP address of the VPN server you connect to. So, any website you connect to when using a VPN will only see the VPN server’s IP address.

For example, if you live in Poland, and you connect to a US-based VPN server, any website you access will think you are connecting to them from the US.

You should know that since a VPN uses encryption to secure your online connections, there is a chance your online speed might slow down a bit. Usually, it’s not very noticeable or might not even happen, but it’s still worth mentioning.

2. Use a Smart DNS

A Smart DNS doesn’t exactly hide your IP address, but it does mask your ISP-assigned DNS address, which also contains information that can reveal your geo-location to websites. Basically, the service replaces your original DNS with a new one that points to an “approved” geographical location.

What is Smart DNS

What’s more, a Smart DNS also intercepts your connection requests, and removes any data that can be linked to your geo-location. Afterwards, it replaces said data with new information that is associated with a geo-location where the content you want to access is available.

Unlike a VPN, a Smart DNS doesn’t use any encryption. It takes the data associated with a user’s geo-location and re-routes it through another server without reducing your Internet speed. However, the downside is that you might be left vulnerable online since your data and online connections are not secured.

3. Use a Proxy

A proxy is a service that acts as an intermediary between a small network and the web. They are often used to bypass geo blocking because they can easily mask a user’s IP address. Plus, they have a caching ability (“saving” websites that were already visited for later uses) that lets you access cached websites faster.

However, proxies offer little to no security most of the time. If that doesn’t bother you, it’s also worth noting that the online speeds you get to “enjoy” with proxies are pretty limited. Why? Because proxy servers often have bandwidth limitations (due to most proxies being free to use) or are simply overcrowded.

Also, if you use a proxy with HTTP connections, you should be aware that the owner of that proxy will always be able to see your real IP address.

4. Use Tor (The Onion Router)

Another way in which you can conceal your whereabouts on the internet is Tor – a free service that hides your IP address every time you send or request data on the Internet. Your online traffic is passed between multiple relays (nodes run by volunteers), ensuring your digital footprints are hidden.

While Tor can be useful when dealing with geo restrictions, it’s important to note that it isn’t always reliable. Relays can be blocked by ISPs if they are found out, you won’t get to enjoy decent connection speeds all the time, and – sometimes – governments can actually block Tor altogether.

Which Is the Best Option?

Overall, you’re better off using either a VPN or a Smart DNS to bypass geo blocking. If you care about having the best speeds, use a Smart DNS. If that’s not a concern for you and you also want to secure your online data, use a VPN.

Proxies aren’t too reliable when it comes to speeds and security, and Tor can often be blocked by ISPs if a relay is discovered like we already mentioned – plus Tor speeds aren’t too decent since the number of relays (around 7,000) can’t currently keep up with the large number of users.

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Our VPN servers double as proxy servers and we also offer a Smart DNS service that lets you unblock 300+ worldwide geo-restricted websites.

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The Bottom Line

Geo restriction is the act of content providers or governments restricting access to various Internet content based on your geographical location. Geo blocking is done for various reasons (censorship, profit, copyright regulations, etc.), and it’s actually legal most of the time – except in the EU, but it can still be enforced there thanks to various legal loopholes and ambiguities.

Since geo blocking can be enforced because your IP address (which contains information that reveals your geo-location) is visible on the Internet, the only viable geo restrictions bypass method is hiding your IP address when you’re on the web.

That might sound difficult, but you’ve actually got a few options:

  • Using a VPN
  • Using a Smart DNS
  • Using a proxy
  • Using Tor

We recommend sticking to a VPN or a Smart DNS because Tor and proxies don’t offer reliable, decent speeds – plus Tor relays can actually get blocked by ISPs.

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