Geo-Blocking: What it is and how you can get around it

Even if you have never heard of the term geo-blocking, it’s likely that you have experienced it at some point during your time on the internet. Depending on your viewpoint, geo-blocking could be anything from an inconvenience to an invasion of your rights and freedoms. Let’s have a look at exactly what geo-blocking is and if there is a way that you can avoid being held up by it.  

What is geo-blocking?

Geo-blocking is a method of stopping individuals from certain countries from accessing websites, products, or services that are available in other countries. One common place that we see geo-blocking is to prevent the infringement of copyright restrictions in certain countries – it can also be used by businesses to direct customers to local versions of their sites that may, for example, have more expensive prices than can be found elsewhere in the world.

Geo-blocking can also be a form of censorship where governments or internet service providers (ISPs) block access to sites to stop people from being able to view the content or make use of the services that these sites provide. An example of this is the fact that Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites have been banned in Turkey, so those accessing from a Turkish IP address cannot gain access to these sites.

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How does it affect you?

Geo-blocking might affect you in a number of ways depending on where you are in the world. For example, you may have encountered YouTube videos that are blocked in your country due to copyright reasons. It may also be the case that you have been on holiday abroad and tried to use a service like BBC iPlayer only to find that it’s not available from your hotel’s IP address.

Of course in the UK there is no censorship of legitimate services, so being based here can mean that we don’t often run up against geo-blocking. However, some countries do place bans on specific sites and the services that they offer.

You may also have experience geo-blocking without really realizing it. For example, some services (such as Netflix) offer different libraries of movies and TV shows in different countries, so while some people in America can access certain shows, if you are based in Britain you might not be able to watch them.

How can you get around it?

There are a number of different methods that can be used to get around geo-blocking. One of the most popular is the use of a VPN based in the UK. A VPN is a service that allows you to connect to the internet via a server somewhere else in the world. That means that if you are in the UK but you connect to a VPN based in the USA, your computer will believe that you are in America.

When the VPN is running, you will be able to use any service that is available in the country where your VPN is based. This can allow you to circumvent any restrictions based in your own country. In the example above, this could mean when you are on holiday you could connect to a VPN based in the UK in order to gain access to BBC iPlayer and other UK based services.

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Is it illegal to get around geo-blocking?

The question of legality in terms of getting around geo-blocking is complicated. In almost every country in the world, VPN services are completely legal – although some specific services may have been blocked. Certainly there is nothing to stop you connecting to a VPN. However, it’s notable that some services such as Netflix have terms and conditions that may prohibit the use of services that attempt to defeat geo-blocking. It’s always worth checking on the small print to ensure that you aren’t putting yourself in legal trouble.