More and more websites and apps use geolocation for different purposes. Knowing the location from which users access their services allow service and solutions providers to deliver targeted content, specific features, and even a unique user experience. On a very basic level, geolocation can be used to automatically customize the language and currency of an e-commerce site.
Today, however, the use of geolocation goes beyond the simpler applications. Content restrictions are becoming more common. Streaming sites like Netflix, for instance, restrict content based on your geographic details. TV series and movies that are available to Netflix users in the United States may not be available to users from other parts of the world.
In some cases, geographic restrictions are limiting your ability to access certain features and content. Thankfully, there are ways to get around those restrictions using simple methods. We are going to discuss those methods in this article.
Understanding IP Addresses
So, how do apps, sites, and web services find your location? In the case of apps running natively on your smartphone, location information can be acquired by accessing the device's location services. Mobile operating systems provide APIs that allow native apps to access your location.
The more common method, however, is geolocation based on IP addresses. Every IP address is unique. More importantly, every IP address says a lot about you as an internet user. An IP address may reveal your location, the internet provider that you use, and more.
Using these details, websites and web services - and, in some cases, apps - can limit the content they provide accordingly. This is what we know as geo-restriction. You are being denied access to certain content because of the location details carried by your IP address.
Masking Your IP with Proxies
You can mask your public IP address by adding a proxy server between you and the website or web service you're trying to access. A proxy server helps you remain anonymous when browsing the World Wide Web.
Proxy servers are becoming more advanced as geo-restriction methods become more complicated. For instance, you can now set the target city or country from which you want your requests to originate. You can connect to a US proxy server to appear as if you are accessing Netflix from a US city.
Since the proxy server acts as a barrier between you and the accessed server, your actual IP address is hidden. The proxy server relays your requests from the originating server you selected earlier. You can use multiple proxies to get around different geo-restrictions.
Here's the good - and not so good - part: there are proxy servers that you can use for free. You only need to connect to one that suits your specific needs and you are ready to access unrestricted content.
The not-so-good part? The fact that free proxies actively relay your requests and connections. Everything from passwords to your cookies and login sessions must go through the proxy servers before they reach the destination server or your computer.
Naturally, some precautions are required, starting with choosing a trustworthy proxy server to use in the first place. You want the free proxy server to be managed by a reputable service provider to ensure the safety of your data. Even then, logging out of your accounts and avoiding sending sensitive information is still highly recommended.
Using Proxies with Your Device
Proxy servers can be configured to work with your operating system natively. This means all of your connections are routed through the proxy servers of your choice, giving you the ability to use native desktop and mobile apps while bypassing the same geo-restrictions.
Another way to utilize proxy servers is by adding them to your browser. This limits the use of proxies to requests coming from your browser only. When you access services using native apps (i.e. when you use Slack for Windows) you bypass the proxies completely.
Which method is better? The answer to this question depends on how you want to utilize proxies. If you only want to hide your IP address from websites you access using a web browser, the latter method is more efficient. Either way, you no longer have to worry about geo-restrictions.