How (In)Effective is Geo-Blocking?

Geo-blocking helps in many ways. It helps brands protect their intellectual properties. It also helps third-party companies protect copyright licensing agreements. And it is helpful in enforcing market segmentation.

It can increase a brand’s profit margin, but it can also cause businesses to lose millions of dollars when it is ineffective.

Geo-blocking can be ineffective, as we will see shortly. But first, lets see what geo-blocking is all about, how it works, and the primary means of bypassing it.

What is Geo-Blocking?

Geo-blocking is also known as geo-restriction and involves the act of restricting some users’ access based on their physical location.

The restriction can be a complete ban where they are unable to interact with the servers or a partial restriction that only allows the user to access selected content.

Either way, it can affect the overall internet experience. For instance, users in Iran can enjoy services from the popular trip and accommodation company Airbnb, while internet users in China are denied access to Netflix streaming services.

For business, geo-blocking simply means digital companies will have difficulty finding and extracting the data they need to grow and expand.

How Does Geo-Blocking Work?

Each device on the internet is enabled by a technology known as the internet protocol (IP). An IP address is a unique string of numbers that helps to differentiate devices on the internet and help those devices connect to servers and interact with them.

An IP address also helps to define a user’s physical location so that it is possible to almost pinpoint the exact location of an internet user by simply reading their IP.

When you send a request to a target server, the request is transferred using your device’s IP address. This is done to help the server recognize where to send the results of your request.

However, the server can also scan the IP to know where you are browsing from. If your location happens to be on the blocklist, your access to the server will be limited or ultimately denied.

This way geo-blocking works to protect the server and its content, but it also keeps legitimate users away from the content they need.

Means of Bypassing Geo-Blocking Limitations

Fortunately for us, there are various methods for dealing with the limitations caused by geo-blocking. Below are some of the most common methods for getting around them:

  • Using VPNs

VPNs or virtual private networks are tools that help to transfer users’ requests via an encrypted tunnel.

They can accept connections from users and pass them through secure channels and return results via the same route.

By channeling a user’s communication this way, VPNs eliminate the need for users to use their IP and hence prevent geo-blocking.

  • Proxies

Proxies are computers that help to stand between a user and the web. They come equipped with a wide pool of IPs and locations and allows the user to pick any IP or location.

By doing this, users can employ different IPs and locations each time and conceal their own, making it impossible for the target servers to determine their original location and hence unable to ban them.

For instance, users that want to bypass geo-restrictions in the German internet space only need to use a Germany proxy server every time they want to browse in Germany. If you are interested in Germany proxy servers or any other location-based proxy solutions, check out this blog post

Practical Examples of Where Geo-Blocking Works and Where It Doesn’t

To fully comprehend the bigger picture of geo-blocking, let us see some areas where it is effective and cases where it is ineffective.

Effectiveness of Geo-Blocking

  • Preventing Copyright Infringement

Geo-blocking is commonly used to protect intellectual properties and prevent certain elements from reaching the servers.

For instance, if a particular country is notorious for harboring hackers that steal digital assets and infringe on copyrights, a brand can implement geo-blocking to ban connections from that country.

  • Protecting Licensing Agreements

Licenses are issued to grant third parties the rights to use a particular content or air them. And in most cases, the issuer decides where they want their content shown.

The third parties then implement geo-blocking, which effectively makes the content unavailable to users outside of the target regions.

  • Filtering Content

Several national governments have been known for using geo-blocking to filter and regulate the type of content that enters their countries’ cyberspace.

The technology effectively ensures that only what is allowed gets into the country. In contrast, other information and content that is not allowed remain out of reach of the citizens.

Ineffectiveness of Geo-Blocking

  • Defective in Blocking Attackers

Geo-blocking may be considered effective in blocking traffic from a particular region, but it does not stop attacks from attackers that reside in those regions.

For instance, experienced hackers know better than to route their requests through their original locations. They can easily use tools that can make them appear from different locations, thereby making geo-blocking ineffective in averting the attacks.

  • Faulty Accuracy

The thing that makes geo-blocking effective is that it can prevent traffic from a predefined region.

However, when the predefined area becomes too specific, for instance, when a server seeks to ban a city rather than a country, the phenomenon can become less accurate, and the server could risk banning users that are from a different city that may share a specific characteristic with the blocked city.

This way, a brand may end up banning even their legitimate customers from other cities.

  • Additional Cost

Implementing a typical geo-blocking process comes at a price. Adding a restrictive measure to a server requires some codes, which can add more load to the server.

Hosting and configuring geo-restriction codes on servers can increase the server load setting it up to become slow and less responsive with the possibility of crashing in the future. 

Conclusion

Geo-blocking exists because sometimes businesses need to segment their market and keep some users away from some content.

But it is essential to know that this comes at a cost. And the businesses implementing it are not the only ones that bear the cost; legitimate businesses and users also feel the burn of geo-blocking.

Featured Image Credit: Canto

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