A Pirate’s Toolkit: the VPN

It is one of my core beliefs as a pirate that if a corporation tells you that you can’t do something, you should probably find a way to do it anyway. Especially if this corporation is a member of FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Neflix, and Google.)

So, if Netflix decides to tell you that you can’t watch something because you’re in the wrong country, it is our bounden duty to ignore them and do it anyway.

Enter the VPN (virtual private network.)

What is a VPN, you ask? Simply put, a VPN is a way of tricking whatever website you’re trying to access into believing that you are accessing it from somewhere else. It also seems to increase your privacy (hence the P in VPN) in general on the web, although how much security you get depends on the provider and the country it operates in.

For most of us in the Western world, this is important mainly because of the differences in service between US, UK, and Canadian versions of Netflix. However, for those living in more authoritarian countries, such as China, a VPN can mean much more than that.

At present, to the best of my knowledge, there are two versions of the internet. The web most of us get, and the authoritarian web controlled by China. Other countries may have their own version, I’m not sure. Kind of like parental controls, but on a country-wide scale.

(Grr. Have I mentioned lately how much I hate it when governments try to be paternal?)

In these countries, citizens can use VPNs to get access to information they wouldn’t have. For example, finding out how events are being reported in other countries, which is especially important if the media in one’s own country is directly controlled by the government. Like in North Korea.

It is however important to note that, for obvious reasons, VPNs tend to be illegal in said authoritarian countries.

Currently, VPNs are not illegal in the Western world. Mostly because, like I said, we mostly just use them to access other country’s versions of streaming services. While technically a violation of Netflix’s user agreement…nobody really cares that much if you do that.

Okay, a few people care, but fortunately for the time being they don’t make laws. At least not directly, yet.

Why these different versions exist in the first place has to do with the people Netflix gets its content from. To gain access to this content, Netflix has to make agreements with these people, which includes in which countries they want their content shared with.

Don’t ask me why. The foibles of content providers are one of the great mysteries of the universe. Any librarian will tell you this.

Now, you may be wondering, if I get a VPN and use it, will Netflix (or whoever) get mad at me or suspend my account?

No they will not. You’re paying for their service, and they know not to bite the hand that feeds them.

They only “get mad at” your VPN provider, which they do by playing whack-a-mole with the servers VPN providers well…provide.

In which case you may occasionally get a polite error message telling you to turn off your VPN. If this happens, simply switch to another server on your VPN provider. If you’re with one of the good ones, they should have plenty to choose from.

In the future, however, where you’re accessing the internet from (and hence the usage of VPNs) may become less trivial. In addition to the authoritarian, and non-authoritarian versions of the internet, the EU may end up with its own version due to its copyright laws.

Websites that want to operate in the EU may have to change, so they may develop versions of themselves that comply with EU laws. Or they may simply refrain from doing business in the EU, resulting in a different overall experience.

What effect that will have on the average user remains to be seen. It’s possible we could see more and more differences in the way websites are viewed in different countries, as the laws around copyright and internet content mature. In which case the humble VPN may become more salient for the average user.

(For a much more in-depth discussion of VPNs, including security, as well as a handy website dedicated to figuring out which is the best one, click here.)

That being said, for the brief period I used a VPN, I used ExpressVPN. Once I figured out how to download the darn thing (it was only complicated because I had a Chromebook, and only until I realized that I could get the app via the Google Play store) it worked quite well.

It was a little expensive, but they do the one-month free trial, which is more than enough time if you only want to binge watch one thing.

So if you want a VPN, either Google it, or just click on that handy link up there.

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