Many people discover when they go on holiday or start travelling that the internet changes depending on where you happen to be. Of course some of it is expected, fire up Google using an access point in a Spanish cafe and you’ll not be surprised to find the Spanish version. What happens is that Google looks up your location and redirects you to the most appropriate version of the search engine interface – in this case Google.es.
This makes sense and is actually quite useful but unfortunately the same technology is used in other ways. It called geotargetting and basically when you visit a web site it takes your IP address and looks up what location it’s registered to, this is then used to either tailor, block or filter what you can see on that site. This is where the problem lies when a US citizen tries to access a US only site from a foreign country they’ll get blocked. Someone from the UK on holiday who logs on to the BBC iPlayer site expecting to watch the news online will also get blocked.
The list is endless, more and more sites are operating in this way meaning what you access from your home country will vary widely when you travel. However there is a way of bypassing these filters and accessing any site, you can watch the BBC from Greece using a UK proxy site to hide your location.
Here’s a simple explanation of how it’s done:
However we should clarify something, in the video above the program was not actually connecting to a UK proxy online, the server actually was something called a VPN server. It works in a similar way to a proxy but is much more difficult to detect. As of this year, most of the biggest media sites block access is you attempt to use a proxy server in order to bypass their blocks. VPN (virtual private network) servers are much more difficult to detect and block than proxies.
It’s probably too early to guess where this battle is going to head. Many of us hope that these companies block this practice of segregating web users by their location, although as it helps maximize profits this may never happen.