The meaning of the term geoblocking can be derived quite easily from its word components: Geo comes from the Greek and initially only refers to the earth in general, but often only means a certain region. Blocking is a form of the English verb “to block” and translates as stopping or blocking. The word geoblocking is particularly widespread on the Internet: There it describes the blocking of certain content in individual regions. German users are most likely familiar with this technology from many US YouTube videos that GEMA has blocked for computers with German IP addresses, as the different copyright laws do not allow them to be released. Even fee-financed or advertising-financed TV stations in other countries cannot normally be reached due to geoblocking abroad.
- The different license rights in the individual states are the reason why individual pieces of music, films or series are not available, for example when traveling.
- With a proxy server or a VPN, the consumer can bypass geo-blocking.
- Avoiding geoblocking usually violates the general terms and conditions of the relevant website.
When to use geoblocking
Geo-blocking is particularly annoying for users of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, Spotify or Sky Go. The different license rights in the individual states are the reason why individual pieces of music, films or series are not available, for example when traveling. Especially with longer stays abroad, however, it is annoying when paying customers cannot use the subscribed services as usual, although they continue to pay the monthly fee. In addition to the commercial use of geoblocking by internet providers or the operators of streaming and video platforms, a political instrumentalization of geoblocking is also conceivable: States with an autocratic government such as North Korea or China use the technology to block entire websites within their national borders .
Footprints on the Internet: How does geoblocking work in detail?
Geo-blocking is only possible because every internet user leaves traces on the internet that internet providers and website operators can trace back. This is done using the respective IP address, which is automatically assigned to every user or rather every internet-enabled device such as smartphone, computer or tablet when connecting to the internet. The IP address, by the way, IP stands for Internet Protocol, is a sequence of four digits separated by three dots, the value of which can range from 0 to 255. It is required so that data transmission on the Internet works smoothly. Incidentally, the number sequences are not chosen arbitrarily, but they are put together according to certain rules. For example, the so-called country-specific code provides information about the exact location of the computer. The country-specific code is therefore comparable to the postcode in a person’s address. It enables the respective internet provider or streaming service to understand where a user comes from. This process is called geotargeting, it represents the basis of geoblocking.
Are there any ways to bypass geoblocking?
There are several approaches for addressing: With static addressing, a device receives a fixed IP address – this applies to servers or printers within a closed network, for example. More common, however, is dynamic addressing, in which the user is assigned a new IP address every time he connects to the Internet. Most DSL providers use this type of IP address assignment, if only because all users are never online at the same time and this saves resources. The big disadvantage of a dynamic IP address is that geoblocking comes into play here. Because when a German user connects to his / her streaming service abroad, it recognizes the location based on the newly assigned IP address – and may not properly display all of the content. There are certainly options for consumers to bypass geoblocking – for example with a proxy server located in the country not affected by the blocking, or by using an anonymizer or VPN (Virtual Private Networks). However, the legality of these measures is very controversial.