Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, speaks during a keynote address at the 2016 CES trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 6, 2016 / REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Netflix has added huge new restrictions to the way that people use the service, in a move that is thought to have been a concession to rightsholders, but users argue that the site should treat everybody the same

Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition against Netflix's ban on unblockers.

The site is instituting a crackdown on people who use virtual private networks (VPNs) — a tool that allows people to spoof their location and get access to other country's libraries, but also to secure their browsing. But a new petition argues that doing so could make "innocent customers" into "collateral damage", and that the site should reverse the block.

Netflix is thought to have instituted the ban as a way of appeasing rightsholders, who make money by selling TV shows and films into different countries. The site has regularly said that it would rather avoid such restrictions by getting rid of geographically-limited licenses entirely, and make all content available to everybody.

Many initially thought that the site's promise to launch a crackdown would amount to little. But they appear to already be working, with the company banning many users for using VPNs entirely.

The new petition says that the ban could "would block paying customers from using the service on their own terms, undermine customers’ privacy, and push users to illegal alternatives". It claims that the block will stop people who use VPNs for other purposes from watching content they pay for and threaten privacy.

Netflix appears to be blocking users based on whether they are using a VPN at all, rather than whether or not it is being used to access other content.

While VPNs are a popular way of spoofing a location, they are also an important security tool for many people. Since they work by sending internet traffic through other networks, they can be an important way of anonymising browsing or keeping it from being spied on.

The petition claims that many people who use VPNs on Netflix will be doing so for those reasons, rather than because they are trying to cheat the service. As such, the company could end up banning people from watching content that they legitimately should have access to, the signatories claim.

"Want to access domestic Netflix while using a VPN to protect your privacy? Sorry, too bad," they write. "It's Netflix, or privacy – you can't have both."

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