Country-restricted websites prompts a message that it is unavailable to users in that country or region. These restrictions are put in place by geo-blocking or network blocking.
Websites use geo-blocking to detect and block incoming traffic from other countries. Geo-blocking restricts Internet access on a content based on the user’s IP address.
The user’s IP address provides the geographical location and the system checks it against its list of whitelisted or blacklisted IP addresses. In some cases, the system uses registration details of the user to block access. But, this is not reliable since a user can simply create an account using details from an unrestricted location.
Music and video streaming websites or services often do this due to them having no rights to distribute the media to the restricted country. Online gambling sites also practice this due to legal restrictions of a country.
There are also some e-commerce websites utilizing this to price identical products differently depending on buyer location. The e-commerce website would then block local users from accessing its foreign sites and would only have the local equivalent available to them. This is usually done to cover their costs of doing business in the country.
Internet service providers use this type of blocking. Network blocking prevents outgoing traffic from reaching restricted sites or services through the Internet. Internet service providers do this due to requirements from government agencies. Blocked content or sites are usually illegal in nature such as child abuse, and human trafficking.
Network blocking in most countries often respect the neutrality of the Internet. State-compelled censorship can only restrict content that are already illegal in the first place. Going further can violate the rights of the users for information and speech.
However, there are states that have a more aggressive stance in this regard. The most famous example is China and their Great Firewall. The Great Firewall of China has legislative support to regulate the country’s domestic Internet traffic. Censored content, services, and websites include defamatory topics on China, selected news agencies, obscene or pornographic sites, Taiwanese sites, blogging sites, and social media websites. Other examples of aggressive internet censorship include United Arab Emirates and Qatar where they block voice-over-internet-protocol (VOIP) services such as FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Skype.
Internet users can bypass these restrictions by using a virtual private network.
For geo-blocking, a VPN can provide a user with an IP address located in an unrestricted location of the website or service. The website or service provider would see the VPN’s address and not the user’s restricted IP address. This results to the user accessing the restricted content.
The same mechanism works for bypassing network blocks. The internet service provider sees the user making a connection to a VPN’s IP address. It cannot determine the websites the user is accessing.
Tourists have limited means of communication while travelling in a country restricting social media or VOIP. They can instead use a roaming service or a temporary mobile plan. But, using these to communicate to their home country can be quite expensive.
Some of them might even need to access online banking services. Unfortunately, most banks prevent access from foreign IP addresses. Some banks can even freeze the account and its debit or ATM card if this happens.
With a VPN, tourists can freely use their social media and VOIP applications. It can also provide them an IP address that has their home country as the location. In this way, they can prevent complications that might happen with their bank account.
Country restrictions can make working remotely difficult. The government of their current location could even be blocking some important websites and services for their work.
With VPNs, remote workers can freely access the resources to get their job done. The business can even save some money by foregoing expensive phone or roaming services.
With a VPN, migrant workers can freely use social media even if their host country restricts it. In this way, they can easily keep in touch with their friends and family at home.
Overseas travelers cannot freely access exclusive streaming services from their country if they are in a restricted region. It seems unfair since they are paying for it and not even a resident of the restricted country. With a VPN, they can still use these services and even have access to the media library exclusive to their home country.