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What Is Geo-Restriction Technology & How Can You Bypass It?

Geo-Restricted Content

If you ever tried to access a website or a page on a website, and instead of getting the content you expected you got a message telling you said content isn’t available in your area, you’ve dealt with a geo-restriction issue.

In case you’re not very familiar with how geo-restriction tech generally works or what it actually is, or just want to learn more about the topic (how to bypass it, if it’s legal or not, or why it’s used), we’ve got you covered with this in-depth 10-minute article.

What Is Geo-Restriction Technology?

Geo-restrictions (also called geo-blocks) are a method content providers use to restrict access to their services and platforms on a geographical basis. Essentially, it allows them to make their websites available in specific countries.

A good example of that is tubi – a free TV streaming platform. If you try to access it outside the US, you’ll get restricted access to its content. If you try to access it from the EU at the moment, you’ll get a message telling you the service isn’t available in that area.

Netflix US is another good example of geo-blocking in action. In their case, they don’t tell you the service isn’t available in your country, though. Instead, they usually redirect you to a content library that works in your region.

How Do Geo-Restrictions Work?

It’s pretty simple – geo-restrictions are possible because websites can see your geographical location when you connect to them. So, all a website needs to do when it receives a connection request from your device is to check if it’s whitelisted or blacklisted. If it’s blacklisted, it will redirect you to a page reserved for your region (like Netflix does when it redirects you to the library available in your country). Alternatively, the website can refuse your connection request, and deliver a message telling you the service isn’t available in your country.

How does a website see your geo-location? Usually, they get that information from:

  • Your IP address
  • WiFi and/or Bluetooth MAC address
  • The location of your WiFi connection
  • Your device’s GPS
  • Your RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification)
  • The device’s GSM (2G) or CDMA (3G) cell ID

6 Reasons Geo-Blocks Are Used

Here’s an overview of the main reasons you’ll come across geo-restrictions when you’re on the Internet:

1. Copyright Agreements

Content providers (like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, etc.) don’t own the rights to all the content they have on display – they just own the right to broadcast it. So, it’s the original copyright holder that decides whether or not the content can be broadcasted worldwide. If that isn’t allowed, the content platforms need to respect those regulations, and geo-restriction technology helps them do that.

2. Licensing Rights

Copyright holders and content providers need to purchase licensing rights in a specific country if they want to stream their content there. That can get rather expensive (especially when you think about other country-specific taxes that might come into play), so it’s not hard to imagine that buying licensing rights all over the world is out of the question.

3. Price Discrimination

Geo-restrictions can be used to enforce price discrimination – the act of displaying different pricing based on what country the online user is connecting from. Online retailers and airline companies tend to do this to better divide the world into multiple market segments, and make a larger profit.

4. Blackouts

In the US, geo-blocks are often used in blackouts – a practice that’s “popular” among broadcasting companies, national networks, sports leagues and associations. Basically, geo-restrictions are used to make sure a certain sporting event isn’t streamed in an area where:

  • The event in question is taking place.
  • Distribution rights are exclusively owned by national networks.
  • Said event is already being broadcasted locally.

5. Legal Reasons

Geo-restriction methods can often be employed by a government for legal reasons. For instance, the UK government uses geo-blocks to make sure their TV content is only available in the UK (with some exceptions) because it’s all funded by taxpayer money.

6. Legal Requirements

Sometimes, certain businesses need to follow specific international and national laws in order to operate in a country or region – and those laws can force said businesses to use geo-restriction methods.

For instance, online casinos normally need to use geo-restrictions to comply with online gambling laws – especially since they’re not legally allowed to offer their services in countries that ban online gambling.

Is the Use of Geo-Restriction Tech Legal?

Generally, yes. Right now, the EU seems to be the only place where legal action is actually being taken against geo-restriction methods. Here’s a quick overview of what’s been going on:

  • Back in 2018, the EU apparently banned what they call “unjustified geo blocking.” While it sounds good, the ban didn’t achieve much since there was a legal loophole that stated the ban didn’t apply if geo-blocking was necessary to ensure compliance with legal requirements. The ban also didn’t cover media like video games and eBooks.
  • Fast forward a few months, and the EU adopted digital media portability regulations. Basically, the new regulations stated that content providers who offer paid services need to provide a type of “roaming” in EU member states. Sky Go and NOW TV are good examples of how that works, as they allow users to watch UK content outside the country up to 30 days if they’re in EU member states.
  • Towards the end of 2018, a new EU regulation came into effect, which essentially put an end to geo-blocking in eCommerce.

Non-EU countries in Europe might not follow that legislation, though, so it’s likely that geo-blocking isn’t viewed as a legal problem in those places.

In regions like North America and Australia, geo-blocking its considered a normal practice as a way to protect the copyrights of artists, TV/movie producers, and other content creators. As for places like Asia, the Middle East, South America, and Africa, there are no clear laws in place that stipulate whether geo-blocking is legal or not. Usually, it’s practiced there as well.

4 Easy Ways to Access Geo-Restricted Content

Usually, the best and simplest way to bypass geo-restriction methods is to hide your IP address or geo-location when you’re on the Internet. While that might sound difficult to do, it really isn’t.

Accesing Geo-Restricted Content

In fact, you’ve got four options you can try out:

1. VPN Services

A VPN service helps you bypass geo-blocks by replacing your IP address with the address of the VPN server you connect to. So, if you connect to a US-based VPN server, you can access geo-restricted websites that are only available there

VPNs are pretty easy to use, and they can’t really be blocked by ISPs (like Smart DNS services can). Plus, since a VPN uses encryption, it can prevent your ISP from throttling your bandwidth too.

Still, you should know that a VPN’s encryption can interfere with your connection speeds. That’s not to say your online speeds will 100% go down, but depending on how strong the encryption cipher and VPN protocol are, you might experience some slowdowns.

Pros

  • Connecting to a VPN server is all it takes to hide your IP address.
  • Since VPNs use encryption, they can help you prevent ISP bandwidth throttling.
  • Most VPN servers come equipped with high-speed connections and unlimited bandwidth.
  • There isn’t really a way for ISPs to block VPNs.

Cons

  • Depending on how strong the VPN encryption and protocol are, your online speeds might take a hit.

2. Smart DNS Services

A Smart DNS is a service you can use to hide your real DNS address that’s assigned to you by your ISP. While it’s not the same as hiding your IP address, your DNS address also contains information that reveals your real geo-location. So, replacing it with a new address that contains data which points to a place in a country where the content is available in is a good way to bypass geo-blocks.

Furthermore, a Smart DNS will also intercept your connection requests to any website you want to access, and replace any data found in them that leaks your geographical location with new information that is linked to a different, “whitelisted” location.

Another great thing about Smart DNS services is the lack of encryption, which allows you to access geo-restricted content while enjoying your original ISP speeds. Also, most Smart DNS services offer access to a huge list of pre-unblocked websites you can access instantly.

On the other hand, a problem is that your ISP could block the Smart DNS you use with a Transparent Proxy. That, and you sometimes might not find the website you want on the list of pre-unblocked websites. Usually, that’s not a huge problem since you can ask the provider to add the website you want to the list.

Pros

  • A Smart DNS is easy to use, and helps you hide your geo-location by hiding your DNS address.
  • No encryption is used, so you get to enjoy your original connection speeds.
  • Smart DNS services offer access to tons of pre-unblocked websites. You can also ask the provider to unblock new websites.
  • A Smart DNS can be configured on pretty much any Internet-connected device.

Cons

  • Your ISP could block the Smart DNS with a Transparent Proxy.
  • The list of pre-unblocked websites doesn’t contain every single website in a region.

3. Proxy Servers

A proxy server acts like a middleman between you and the web. You send your connection requests to it, and it forwards them to the correct website on your behalf – but it does that using its own IP address instead of your own. So, it helps you bypass geo-blocks with ease.

What’s more, a proxy server can use local caching to deliver faster responses to your requests. Basically, if the server already has the content you request in its local cache, it doesn’t need to forward your request to the web, saving you time.

Also, some proxies don’t use encryption, so that won’t interfere with your online speeds. However, that’s not really much when you consider that many proxy servers have bandwidth limitations which prevent you from getting the high speeds you want.

Other problems usually include the lack of technical support, the fact that some servers (especially free ones) tend to be overcrowded and suffer a lot of downtime, and that proxies which use HTTP connections reveal your real IP address to the proxy owner.

Pros

  • A proxy hides your IP address, and can return results faster if they are archived in the server’s local cache.
  • Proxy servers that don’t use encryption shouldn’t interfere with your online speeds.
  • Many proxy services can be used straight from your browser.

Cons

  • Despite the lack of encryption, most of the time you won’t get high speeds because the servers have bandwidth limitations and are overcrowded.
  • If you use a proxy server with HTTP connections, the owner can see you real IP address.
  • Proxies tend to suffer a lot of downtime, and don’t usually offer support since they’re often free to use.

4. Tor (The Onion Router)

Tor is a free-to-use anonymity network that hides your IP address when you’re on the Internet, effectively allowing you to bypass geo-blocks. Your digital footprint is also hidden since your online traffic is bounced and encrypted between multiple Tor relays.

The service does have some problems, though. For one, the relays are run by volunteers, so they’re not exactly guaranteed to be 100% reliable. For example, an ISP can shut down a relay if they find it (which can happen with exit relays, where Tor traffic is no longer encrypted).

Furthermore, the current number of Tor relays is around 6,000 and 7,000, while the total number of Tor users is approximately two million. That means the relays are often overcrowded, and you might have to deal with slow online speeds.

Lastly, there’s also the fact that governments can block Tor altogether if they really want to.

Pros

  • Tor helps you hide your IP address to bypass geo-blocks.
  • Tor traffic is bounced between multiple relays, hiding your digital traffic and encrypting it too.
  • The number of Tor relays is sub-par compared to the number of Tor users, resulting in low-speed and unstable connections.

Cons

  • Tor relays can be blocked by ISPs – especially exit relays.
  • Tor can potentially be blocked by governments.

Which Service Is the Most Convenient Geo-Restriction Bypass Method?

Overall, all services have their advantages and disadvantages, though it does seem that Tor is less efficient because it can be blocked by your ISP or government + there aren’t enough relays to support the huge number of users, so the speeds are pretty bad.

Unblock Geo-Restricted Content

VPNs, Smart DNS services, and proxies are pretty tied, but Smart DNS services and VPNs are a better choice. Ideally, you should pick a VPN provider that offers access to all those services at once, so that you can freely switch between them depending on what works best for you.

Need a Service to Help You Bypass All Geo-Restriction Methods?

We’ve got just what you need – a high-end VPN service that also features free proxy servers and a Smart DNS service too. This way, you can see which method works best for you with ease. Also, if you want to use Tor, our service offers support for that kind of traffic as well.

Our VPN offers 20+ high-speed servers, and all of them come equipped with unlimited bandwidth. The servers double as proxy servers, and you can use our services on multiple platforms with our user-friendly clients.

Furthermore, you can even manually configure connections on devices and operating systems that don’t normally support VPNs if you follow our step-by-step tutorials.

Get Access to 290+ Websites With Just a Few Clicks

Our Smart DNS service comes with a huge list of pre-unblocked websites which you can instant access to. You can enjoy content from countries like:

  • The US
  • The UK
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Germany
  • Poland
  • France
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

Try Out Our Service Free of Charge

Don’t worry – you don’t need to choose a subscription right away. Feel free to test-drive our service for free for 24 hours first to make sure it meets all your needs.

Oh, and we should also mention that we’ll have your back with a 30-day money-back guarantee once you become a CactusVPN user too.

Conclusion

Geo-restriction technology is used by content providers to dictate in what countries various online content and services are available. For example, Pandora Radio only works in the US, and you can’t access the service outside the country.

Geo-restriction methods are normally employed for copyright-related reasons, because the content provider doesn’t have licensing rights to broadcast the content in all countries, and for legal reasons. Geo-blocking can also be used to enforce price discrimination in an attempt to make more profit.

Geo-blocking is normally considered legal, except in the EU where recent regulations have made it less acceptable.
The best way to bypass geo-restrictions is to hide your geo-location on the web. That can be accomplished by masking your IP address (which you can do with a proxy, VPN, or Tor) or DNS address (achievable with a Smart DNS service). Ideally, you should pick a provider that offers access to the most efficient services (proxy, VPN, Smart DNS) in one place.

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Tim has been writing content and copy for a living for over 4 years, and has been covering VPN, Internet privacy, and cybersecurity topics for more than 2 years. He enjoys staying up-to-date with the latest in Internet privacy news, and helping people find new ways to secure their online rights.