Star Trek fans in the United States love Netflix, because just about anything and everything Star Trek can be found there. So much, people in other countries would like the same access — especially since their Netflix might have good selection, but no Star Trek.
That’s what happened in Canada, where Netflix has no sign of Star Trek anywhere. So residents there used technology originally designed to create remote offices for companies to make Netflix think they were accessing the service in the United States, and allowing Kirk, Picard, Sisko, and even Janeway and Archer into their homes.
Well, they did. Past tense.
Three months after Netflix said it would crack down on the usage of VPNs — or virtual private networks — Canada became the highest-profile casualty with one of the largest VPN providers beginning to refund customers there where Netflix no longer links to American offerings.
Media Technology Monitor reports that about 40 percent of English-speaking Canadians use Netflix, according to the Toronto Sun, and a third of them have found ways to sidestep geo-blocks and access the American offerings. Netflix considers such usage a violation of its service, and in many cases it’s illegal, because Netflix is licensed to offer some programming, like the Star Trek series, to many countries outside of the United States.
Netflix didn’t appear to pay too much attention to VPNs in the past, until the extent of the service’s usage outside of the United States became more public. Some of that was thanks to Mary Ann Turcke, the president of Toronto-based Bell Media, who actually ratted out her 15-year-old daughter for using a VPN last year.
“We have to get engaged and tell people they are stealing,” Turcke said, according to the Sun.
While some VPNs are free, it seems the higher-speed services typically come with a monthly fee, sometimes between $3 and $6. Subscribers to the services either have to re-route individual devices like computers or tablets, or can even re-route their entire home network to run through the proxy service.
Because the proxy service uses an American IP address, some streaming companies like Netflix and Hulu believe the request for content is coming from someone in the United States, and thus provide a selection that is available only in the United States.
The biggest VPNs hit by the latest crackdown appear to be Unblock-us, the Sun reported. Those trying to access Netflix through the service were denied, and the company started to offer refunds to those who were affected.
With the new blocking measures in place, many Canadians have now lost Netflix access to the original “Star Trek,” as well as “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Star Trek: Enterprise.”
Those programs remain available to Netflix subscribers in the United States, however.
What does Reed Hastings, the chief executive officer of Netflix, say about those using VPNs and their complaints?
“It’s a very small but quite vocal minority,” he told Wired. “It’s really inconsequential to us.”