Monday, August 6, 2012

The ethics of using VPN to watch stuff

So a lot of folks are getting VPN (Virtual Private Network) accounts in the UK so they can watch the BBC's streaming coverage of the Olympics, because of course NBC's coverage is execrable.  I talked about the use of VPN's to safegaurd your privacy the other day and this is a different angle on the same thing.

Basically, for years now companies like Netflix and Hulu have spit in the faces of their potential customers in Europe and Asia and denied them service because their IP address is "not in the United States". So people over there have gotten VPN accounts in the U.S.A. to route their traffic through so it looks like they are coming from here, so they could use those services.  God forbid I should ever go to such lengths to give someone my money, but I can understand the desire.

In a similar vein, the BBC collects a tax from every UK subject to pay for its operations, and so their live streaming is restricted to people in the UK, and they use your IP address to determine this. more time...IP addresses are not useful to determine someone's geographic location.

<repeat 100 times until it starts getting real>

Ok, it can be useful a lot of the time, I grant, but it is patently naive to think  you're really doing geo location with any reliability.

Hell, I'm always getting ads that think I'm in Richmond, TX, presumeably because Comcast's local IP's are "located" there.

So anyway a lot of folks are getting UK VPN accounts so they can watch the Olympics without having to tamp down the desire to hang themselves by their own private parts, or rather, hang Bob Costas by his.  I can understand that.

Is it wrong?  Well, they certainly didn't pay the UK TV tax.  But on the other hand, I don't see any option to buy this service, either.  I suppose they are using the BBC's resources in a way they don't approve of, so that's not nice.

But how much sympathy should I have for someone that thinks they can control their internet content by using IP addresses as geo location devices?

Not that I really think they are so naive--there simply isn't any other option.

Because that's how the internet is supposed to work.  All machines are equal--which is what is called peer to peer.  Sure, some machines are servers and some are clients in effect.  But in network terms they should be equal.  And they are, no matter how much some folks would like to force things away from that and turn it into a giant one way transmission system.

Guys, you've already paid to produce the stuff--why not let your quality shine?  At least for as long as the five ringed corporate shill fest lasts?  Sure, it'll cost some more in bandwidth and processor resource, but big woop--throw some ads in for non UK viewers (according to IP address) like you do on your website.

In other words, instead of fighting the internet, which you cannot hope to ever defeat, work with it and help yourself in the process.

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