Is Netflix Putting Your Privacy At Risk?

April 21, 2016 update: Netflix is now blocking incognito and private browsing mode for all the popular web browsers.  That means you can no longer use private browsing to stream Netflix.  Here’s a look at the error in each browser.

Chrome Incognito Mode:

Chrome Incognito Netflix Error

Firefox Private Window:

Firefox Netflix Error

Microsoft Edge InPrivate Window:

Microsoft Edge Netflix Error

Safari Private Browsing Window:

Safari Netflix Error

Opera Private Window:

Opera Netflix Error

We followed up with Netflix support to find out why they are blocking users from using private browsing windows to access the service.  Here’s the response we received:

Netflix Answer

While I understand how private browsing would limit the functionality of some Netflix features, I still feel strongly that at the end of the day user privacy is more important than entertainment.  It will be interesting to see how many customers push back on Netflix decision to block private browsing.

When Netflix went global in January they decided to take a hard stance against VPN usage.  Netflix has always allowed members to connect through a VPN but that is changing quickly as they take action to block VPNs.  At the same time Netflix is forcing millions of loyal customers to choose between privacy and streaming.  Not surprisingly, Netflix users are starting to realize just how bad that is for their online privacy.  At last count over 40,000 users have signed a petition asking Netflix to reverse course and allow encrypted access.

Netflix PrivacyWhat’s the big deal?   Who cares if Netflix blocks VPN users?  It really depends on your goal.  If you’re traveling and want to watch a show back home then the block is an inconvenience.  The problem really comes to the surface for the millions of users who rely on VPN for privacy protection.  Netflix blocking VPN services means that you have to disconnect before accessing the service.  As a long time Netflix customer, my family has enjoyed countless hours of streaming content over the years but we won’t risk our privacy to do so.

Over the last few years we’ve seen the rise in privacy awareness in the United States and around the world.  We are reminded of the danger of not being careful online on a daily basis.  Connecting to a VPN is one of the key methods users around he world rely on to protect their online privacy.  As a father of two teenagers I need all the help I can get keeping them safe online.  I can’t be with them all the time but I can take steps to help secure their Internet connection and protect their personal data at home, school and elsewhere.

Netflix users rely on VPN to protect their network at home and devices while on the go.  Now they have to decide which is more important, Netflix or privacy protection.  That’s a terrible choice to force on customers.  It’s short sighted and a very bad business decision.  The question is how many VPN users are willing to speak with their wallets.  The recent case between the FBI and Apple has sparked a new debate over encryption.  Regardless of where you stand, it’s clear that more and more users are starting to understand the need for privacy protection.  The encrypted connection offered by VPNs is key to protecting user privacy and shouldn’t be targeted by Netflix or any other company.

Netflix decision to block VPNs wasn’t a surprise.  The method in which they are going about it is the issue.  Netflix is blocking users from using VPNs in hopes of gaining global content rights.  They have allowed users to jump digital borders for years and gained millions of extra subscribers.  You might think that global content rights would end the the VPN ban but I wouldn’t hold my breathe waiting on that to happen.  In the meantime Netflix is blocking millions of users from accessing the service through a VPN.  It doesn’t matter whether you are sitting at home or trying to access the service from half way around the world.  Connect to a VPN for privacy protection and Netflix will block your access.

Think about it a minute.  Why does Netflix want to block VPN users?  It’s well known that content owner’s like Sony have been leaning on Netflix to crack down on VPNs to stop users from hopping the digital borders that restrict the tv shows and movies each region has access to watch.  That is likely to be a very expensive decision for Netflix to make in the short term.  They are thought to have millions of users in China alone.  A country that doesn’t have Netflix.  The VPN ban will alienate these users and likely bring about a lot of cancellations.

There are millions of VPN users around the world that will have to decide which is more important, their privacy or Netflix?  I would argue that if you are paying for Netflix then it shouldn’t matter how you connect to the service.  You should be able to connect and stream content through any means.  You shouldn’t have to choose Netflix over privacy and plenty of us won’t.  I recommend you join more than 40,000 Netflix users from around the world by signing the petition asking Netflix to address the issue in a more meaningful manner.  If that doesn’t work you can always look for alternatives that respect your online privacy.  The last time we checked Amazon Prime Video worked just fine through a VPN.