A petition asking Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to end the company’s crackdown on virtual border-hopping has garnered almost 45,000 signatures, consumer activist group OpenMedia says.
“Large media conglomerates are pressuring Netflix to block paying customers from accessing content unavailable in their home country. To do this, they plan to block the use of pro-privacy VPN [virtual private network] services,” the petition states.
It's accompanied by an open letter to Hastings, asking him to find a different way to enforce geographic boundaries.
“If Netflix caves to these media giants, it would block paying customers from using the service on their own terms, undermine customers’ privacy, and push users to illegal alternatives,” the petition says.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says the protest over the company's crackdown on virtual border-hopping is "inconsequential." (Getty Images)
Netflix announced in January it would crack down on technologies that allow viewers to virtually hop borders and watch content from other countries.
Though tech experts had their doubts at first that Netflix would be successful in the effort, evidence is building that many Netflix border-hoppers have been prevented from accessing the U.S. catalog.
A 2014 survey estimated that one-third of English Canadian Netflix users jumped virtual borders to watch the U.S. catalog.
Border-hopping Netflix users began receiving notices like this starting in January. (Photo via Reddit)
Privacy advocates note that VPNs, proxies and other services designed to hide an Internet user’s location aren’t just for watching American Netflix in Canada — they are a key way to protect surfers’ privacy “in a post-Snowden world,” as OpenMedia put it.
In many countries with oppressive political regimes, these border-hopping technologies are the only way to reach certain news sites and social forums.
“Our message to Reed Hastings is clear: nobody should have to choose between Netflix and privacy,” OpenMedia’s digital rights specialist Laura Tribe said in a statement. “Blocking every VPN user from accessing their service is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut."
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Netflix says it's 'inconsequential'
Netflix doesn't seem to be worried, despite reports that furious border-hopping viewers are threatening to quit the service and resort to illegal downloading.
The people upset by the border-hopping crackdown are “a very small but quite vocal minority,” CEO Reed Hastings said during last month’s earnings call. “So it’s really inconsequential to us, as you could see in the Q1 results.”
However, many border-hopping Netflix users reported only late in the first quarter that they had lost access to foreign catalogs, so the impact of these users shifting away from Netflix may not be seen in Netflix results until later.
Wired.com reported earlier this year that Hastings feels Canadians have an inferiority complex when it comes to their Netflix catalog — despite the fact that Canadian Netflix has access to some titles that U.S. viewers don’t, such as "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."