Forget about streaming US Netflix content abroad

The streaming service's catalog of movies and TV shows varies widely from country to country. You're just going to have to deal with it.

Netflix is cracking down on users who bypass country restrictions.

Claire Reilly/CNET

Netflix is tightening its grip on some of your favorite TV shows and movies.

The video-streaming service said Thursday it plans to take new steps to prevent customers from streaming content that isn't officially available in their country.

"In coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are," David Fullagar, vice president of content delivery architecture at Netflix, wrote in a blog post. Fullagar conceded that these methods wouldn't be necessary if Netflix offered the same slate of TV shows and movies globally.

Because of content-licensing deals, Netflix's catalog varies widely from country to country, and that means the list of viewing options depends on where users are when they log in. Those in Australia can't stream "Parks and Recreation," for instance, while those in the UK don't get "The Walking Dead."

The thing is, technology has provided tricks to bypass so-called geoblocks meant to prevent users from streaming location-restricted content. One popular method involves using a virtual private network, or VPN, to direct Internet traffic through other parts of the world, fooling the service into believing a person is in a country that's allowed to view that content. It's the same method that people in China, Iran and other places use to get around censorship to access content on the Web that would otherwise be blocked.

Netflix's terms of use forbid using VPNs and other technology to get around geoblocks. The company employs a variety of technologies to locate its members and stop "attempts to circumvent proper geolocation," a Netflix spokesperson said. It declined to provide specifics.

The content lockdown comes amid a massive global expansion: The streaming service is now available in more than 190 countries. Netflix currently has about 70 million subscribers worldwide, with more than half of them in the US.

The Los Gatos, California-based company says it would one day like to offer the same movies and TV shows everywhere, but that's somewhere in the indefinite future. It all depends on how TV and movie studios choose to construct their international licensing deals.

"In the meantime," Fullagar said, "we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location."

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