How Does Netflix Know I'm Using a Proxy

How Does Netflix Know I'm Using a Proxy

Netflix has become a staple of many weekends and has been a lifeline for people during pandemic lockdowns. If you’re trying to access Netflix content in a different region, you might notice a new error message appear, asking you to turn off your proxy.

While this error can be frustrating, it’s also intriguing— after all, aren’t proxies and VPNs anonymous? How does Netflix know that you are using a proxy? This article aims to answer these perplexing questions and shed some light on the dark truth of online privacy.

Netflix Versus Proxies: How They Can Detect Unblockers

Streaming services are excellent for watching your favorite shows at home or on the go. If you want to view content in another region, however, you may encounter difficulty.

Many people turn to VPNs or specialized proxies called unblockers to circumvent region locks on certain content. These proxies attempt to mask your actual region allowing you to watch programs from other countries that would usually be unavailable. A good example would be watching the latest Korean dramas from France. However, recently Netflix and other streaming providers have started blocking such methods.

So, what is this magic method that Netflix uses to divine anonymous VPN usage? While only Netflix knows the precise formula they use internally, there are several ways to detect proxies. The answer to this question may be more troubling than region-locked content.

Netflix Knows What Your Proxy Shows

The primary method that Netflix (or any other online service) can use to detect proxies is the leaked information from the proxy itself. This realization may come as a shock, as the general belief is that proxies and VPNs are entirely anonymous. 

The idea of an entirely anonymous VPN is tantalizing; being undetectable online is the privacy advocate’s dream come true. In reality, however, no proxy or VPN is one-hundred-percent effective. The internet protocol was originally designed to share information, so traceability is innately present in HTTP communication. For example, the Forwarded header usually contains the source client IP address, even when using a proxy service. Therefore, it can be a simple matter to identify users by carefully examining the HTTP request headers.

VPNs and proxies also collect and can divulge other information as well. Something as seemingly innocuous as your browser’s language setting can be a revealing detail. Streaming services analyze usage patterns as one of their fundamental data points. A valid identifier can be determined by cross-referencing a user’s viewing patterns, language setting, region, and IP address. By logging these results, Netflix can easily detect traffic that suddenly deviates from established norms.

Your Device May Not Play Nice

Even though you may be using one of the best proxies available, your device may also give telltale signs of proxy use. One of the most common yet overlooked ways to identify individual users is with HTML5’s Geolocation API. By utilizing specific functions in the HTML5 specification supported by modern browsers, it is a simple matter to obtain a precise location. 

Though most browsers require explicit permission before sharing Geolocation information, not all devices respect that rule. Netflix and other streaming services can also retrieve approximate locations by using IP range databases or querying various CDN servers for recent location information.

More insidious are the privacy leaks that may arise due to unresolved software bugs. Such bugs can go undetected and unfixed for months or even years, leaving many users vulnerable. It is usually a good idea to ensure that all aspects of your system are fully patched and updated for maximum security.

It Might Be Time to Toss Your Cookies

Netflix may not just be checking your IP addresses but could also scan your browser’s cookie data. Cookies are a surprisingly reliable way to detect a user’s past and present location.

Netflix or any streaming service would not need to read the cookie’s actual data, but simply its location tag. If Netflix sees cookies with a wide range of locations across a small number of sessions, that’s a good sign of a proxy in play.

Because the cookies are not being read but merely location queried, this can be a rather tricky problem to solve. Check your proxy settings to see if it’s possible to enable cookies only from Netflix since you will need them for the service to function.

There’s No Quick-Fix to Beat Netflix’s Tricks

There may be other methods that Netflix is using besides the ones listed here. The constant evolution of technology means that new ways to detect proxies and beat those protections continuously develop.

However, with some trial-and-error, you should be able to start watching your favorite content wherever you are currently staying. Perhaps the most important lesson is always to exercise caution, even when behind a proxy.