Since the advent of GDPR, there is growing attention regarding the technology of geo-blocking. Geo-blocking, short for geographic blocking, allows websites and online services to restrict access based on the user’s physical location. There are a number of reasons that a website or service might want to limit access to users from specific regions, but usually these decisions are rooted in legal concerns.
How Geo-Blocking Works
There are a couple of different ways that websites can determine a user’s location for geo-blocking. Usually, they block IP addresses from particular regions. Whenever a device connects to the internet, it is assigned a unique IP address by an internet service provider (ISP). This address denotes the location of the ISP and, therefore, the user. Whenever we access a website online, the IP address of the device we are on is sent to the server, along with a request for the content in question.
There are some other methods that websites can use for geo-blocking. For example, by verifying that the user’s device is set to the correct time zone. Some of these more advanced methods are more difficult to implement, but the majority of websites rely on IP address range blocking for geo-blocking.
Virtual Private Networks (VPN)
VPNs are the most common and probably the most reliable method of circumventing geo-blocking measures. A virtual private network will disguise your computer’s IP address and, therefore, its physical location, by connecting it to the Internet via another server. These services can be located anywhere in the world, meaning that many VPNs allow their users to choose the location they want, with which their IP address is then associated.
Not only are VPNs an effective way of overcoming any geo-blocking measures you are likely to encounter, but they are also an effective way of improving your online privacy overall. A VPN will encrypt any data that you send through it, meaning that you will also benefit from a more secure connection. However, be aware that you should not sign up with a free VPN service. Free VPNs are often little more than an attempt at harvesting your data.
A proxy works differently to a VPN but is designed to achieve the same results. When you connect to the internet via a proxy, it is the proxy server that interacts with the website, not the device that you are using for browsing. This means that it is the IP address and, therefore, the location of the proxy server that the website sees, while the user’s IP address remains hidden.
While a proxy can help you to circumvent geo-blocking, many websites have blocked access from proxy servers. Proxies will also not offer the same kind of encryption protection that a VPN does. In fact, there is usually no encryption present at all. This makes proxies not as secure as a VPN.
Setting up a smart DNS solution is an effective way of allowing a large number of devices to simultaneously avoid geo-blocking, rather than having to set them up to do so individually. A smart DNS will take any data that is associated with the user’s geo-location, and re-route this traffic through another server, thus disguising the user’s original location.
By leaving the bulk of the data untouched, and only rerouting a small portion of it, the impact on the user’s connection speed is minimal. The primary drawback of the Smart DNS solution, especially when compared to something like a VPN, is that it will not encrypt your traffic, leaving it vulnerable to interception.
The Onion Router (TOR) is a free internet browser which is designed to hide your IP address and encrypt your data flow. TOR is one of the most secure ways of accessing the internet and is an effective way of avoiding geo-blocking. When you connect to the internet via TOR, your computer connects to a series of other computers first, before finally connecting to the website you are trying to access. This makes TOR very secure, especially when combined with the inbuilt encryption. The biggest drawback with TOR is that, because of the way that it works, it often dramatically slows down the speed of the user’s connection.
Geo-blocking can be a real pain, especially when a website you regularly visit suddenly becomes inaccessible. The good news is that it is relatively easy to circumvent any geo-blocking methods with the use of a few simple techniques.