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Speaking at the Canadian Telecom Summit on June 3, Turcke related a tale of her 15-year-old daughter using a VPN to access U.S. Netflix, which offers more content than the Canadian version.
Her disappointment in anyone who acts as her daughter did was clear: “It has to become socially unacceptable to admit to another human being that you are VPNing into U.S. Netflix. Like throwing garbage out of your car window, you just don’t do it. We have to get engaged and tell people they’re stealing.”
Her comments have certainly gotten people engaged, but the majority of them are simply saying that Turcke is wrong.
Within a day, the Toronto Star reported a social media backlash against Turcke that included comments explaining the average Canadian’s mindset: he feels deserving of Netflix content reserved for US users and is willing to enlist a VPN to pay for what would otherwise be inaccessible.
Dr. Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, chimed in to challenge Turcke’s understanding of the law. Users who access Netflix with a VPN may have breached the company’s terms, conditions, and geographic restrictions, but they have not committed theft or any other punishable crime, according to Geist. 25% of Canadian Netflix users have accessed the service with a VPN for this very reason: the only entities that have the power to crack down on VPN usage—Netflix and its content providers—don’t want to. They are willing to turn a blind eye because a paying customer is a paying customer. Furthermore, Netflix is aware its current model doesn't meet customer demand and consequently is working towards global licensing of its content by 2016.
Geist went on to acknowledge that a VPN is much more than a means to watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: “Bell’s emphasis on VPNs also fails to acknowledge that the technology has multiple uses. Privacy protection is among the most important uses, since VPNs allow users to conduct secure communications away from the prying eyes of widespread government surveillance. Bell’s comments may leave some Internet users thinking that VPNs are “socially unacceptable” when precisely the opposite is true.”
When it comes to social acceptability, Turcke has a lot to learn. Feeling threatened by a competitor's success does not give Bell Media the right to attack individuals who are willing to embrace what modern technology has made possible.