We've all been there. You want to watch a video, visit a website or do something online but some geoblocking "feature" prevents you from accessing the content you want to put in front of your eyeballs. Why does this problem still exist in our connected world and what can you do about it?
It's 2018 - why is this a problem?
The main reason some content is geoblocked stems from ye olde world deals stemming from content owners. Back when I was a kid, if I wanted to buy a record that was released in the US but not here, I paid a premium to find it at a niche music importer.
In the digital age, the same sorts of distribution agreements apply but the media companies have figured out how to identify locations, based on how we connect to the internet, and then block content from markets where they have distribution deals.
In short, it's a financial driven situation, much like region coding on DVDs and video games.
Also, some sites will give you some free access but then compel you to pay for access if you want more. For example, some news sites will let you read a handful of stories for free but if you want ongoing access, they'll shepherd you towards a subscription.
In addition, certain sites have been blocked by telcos at the behest of the Australian government. This followed a court order brought about by copyrights holders, including Village Roadshow and Foxtel.
The sites that have been blocked in this way typically offer free torrents or streams of movies and TV shows which is an obvious violation of copyright law. While you shouldn't be accessing this content, visiting the sites is not an illegal act.
This week, Village Roadshow co-CEO Graham Burke announced the company will start suing Australians who infringe on its copyright. This means anyone who has streamed or downloaded a movie via an illegal pirate site is potentially in its cross hairs.
But when will litigation begin? Who will be targeted? And how much money will you need to pay? We spoke directly to Burke to get some answers.
What's the problem we need to solve?
In short, in order to get past site blocking you either need to fool the website into thinking you're somewhere else or into believing you haven't read the requisite number of stories. In most cases, these are reasonably easy things to do.
#1 VPNs FTW
As well as protecting you from having your internet traffic intercepted and letting businesses create a secure tunnel across the public internet, VPNs can be used to obfuscate your location.
Most VPN services have servers set up all over the world. When you connect to a node, websites you visit think that's the country you're in. So, event though I'm in Australia, I can use VPN software two pretend I'm in the UK to access content that's usually restricted to people in that country.
Similarly, if you're a Netflix viewer, a VPN can open up a world of new movies and TV shows. As Netflix customises their offerings depending on where you are and specific deals they've made with content owners and distributors, you'll find different shows available in different geographies.
And while Netflix has blocked many VPNs from being able to use VPN software to circumvent their blocks, there are several VPN apps that let you access overseas Netflix.
If there's one basic, essential security feature that you should be using whenever you're online - it's a VPN. In 2017, we rounded up the best five but as our desire for increased privacy and unrestricted access on the internet grows, so do the amount of providers. It can be hard to sift through them all to find what the service you're looking for.
So we've taken a look at the best VPNs for Australians over the year and for the upcoming year.
#2 Fiddling with DNS and Proxy Servers
DNS, or the Domain Name System, is the network of servers that makes the web work. It takes URLs and translates them into computer addresses. When you type lifehacker.com.au it's DNS that takes that and resolves it to a specific server address where the site's content is held.
Proxy servers act as an intermediary on some networks. When you make a request to visit a website, that request can be directed to a proxy server that then sends it on.
If you use a proxy server or DNS server that's in another country, you can fool websites into thinking that's where you are.
However - I'd advise some caution. When you're connected to a proxy server or DNS, the provider of the servers can, potentially, filter or capture your activity. I'd suggest only using such a service if you're desperate and a VPN doesn't work.
There are Smart DNS services that will detect the location of sites and services you're accessing and change the DNS settings for that connection on-the-fly so you can access geoblocked content easily.
Last week, we brought you the news that Village Roadshow was seeking to add 40 more sites to Australia's anti-piracy block list. ISPs will now need to ban customers from accessing popular torrent and movie streaming sites that include ExtraTorrent, Demonoid, Torrent Downloads, TorrentProject, YTS, 123Movies, and Icefilms. Here is the full list of banned websites (and how to bypass the blocks).
#3 Private browsing
For sites that limit the amount of content you can access, private browsing is a handy workaround. Simply open a private browsing window and start reading. When you're in private mode temporary files, cookies and other information is not stored on your system so the sites you visit won't appear in your browsing history.
Depending on your browser, this will have different names. Microsoft Edge calls this InPrivate, Chrome calls it Incognito Mode, Firefox and Safari simply call it Private Browsing.
It's also worth noting that Opera provides both Private Browsing and an integrated VPN within the browser.