Consumer advocacy group Choice has stepped up its campaign against technology “rip offs” by offering advice on how to bypass geo-blocking technology which stops Australians accessing cheaper prices for products including iTunes music, apps and movies.
Australians regularly pay double the price charged in the US, with songs such as PSY hit Gangnam Style costing US$1.29 (A$1.24) to download in the US and $2.19 in Australia from iTunes. Ridley Scott blockbuster Prometheus, which was featured in the Australian iTunes store for $29.99 this week, was just US$12.99 (A$12.51) in the US version of the store.
Among a raft of tips for circumnavigating geo-blocking technology, Choice has suggested using US iTunes vouchers purchased via eBay to set up a fake US account and using IP address disguising services to access entertainment from the BBC iPlayer.
Choice said bypassing geo-blocking was not without risks and consumers should do it with “eyes wide open”.
“Australians are being ripped off and they are being discriminated against,” Choice head of campaigns Matt Levey said.
“We are not talking about piracy, we are not talking about buying illegitimate products, these are all products where the money is going back to the person who has manufactured them … we are saying buy it legitimately but buy it at a price the US consumer pays.”
“These are artificial walls put up by these companies, they are commercial decisions they are making, because they believe Australian consumers are willing to pay more.
Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said he agreed price discrimination was a problem but said he was concerned Choice was encouraging people to use illegitimate means to shop online, which could result in customers not getting warranties they were entitled to under Australian law.
“If you can buy a product throughout the world, you should be able to buy it at a comparative price in Australia,” Mr Zimmerman said.
“I certainly don’t have an issue with that, but I do have an issue with encouraging consumer to buy from non-legitimate channels, and at the expense of Australian retailers.
“Australian retailers employ 1.2 million people.”
Mr Levey said it was not about encouraging a huge number of Australians to adopt complex methods for buying goods.
“Hopefully there will be enough of a ground swell that we will see these businesses actually reduce their prices to parity,” he said. “We have seen that in other products, such as cameras.”
Choice’s tips for navigating online geo-blocking :
How do I get stuff shipped?
The price is often right with online retailers until you reach the checkout, only to be told shipping to Australia isn’t possible. Third-party delivery services, such as MyUS.com, Lil’ Shoppa, Bongo and Australian-based company Price USA, remove physical shipping barriers, opening up new shopping opportunities for Australian consumers.
From computers to clothing, the basic principle is the same: you purchase the product, enter the warehouse address of the parcel-forwarding service you choose, and wait until they redirect the mail to your Australian address. Some companies, such as Price USA, actually buy the product on your behalf.
How do I access movies, TV shows and software usually unavailable in Australia?
Imagine a virtual tunnel from your lounge room to a computer in the US or UK capable of disguising your IP address and bringing you a constant stream of movies and TV shows, as well as access to heavily discounted software downloads. This is exactly what a virtual private network (VPN) does. As a client connecting to a VPN server that’s in the same country as the site you’re attempting to access, you have unimpeded access to services and purchases usually unavailable to Australian residents.
There are hundreds of free and paid VPN service providers available online. Some of the popular options include TorVPN, LogMeIn Hamachi, Hotspot Shield, HMA, IPVanish and Overplay. Opening the Netflix or Hulu webpage while connected to a VPN server in the US allows you to successfully set up an account if you use a legitimate US postal address.
The alternative to using a VPN is to adopt a US-based Domain Name System (DNS) server, such as unblock-us.com, for about $5 per month. Rerouting your internet connection through a DNS server – a simple configuration in your computer’s network preferences – can also trick the site you’re attempting to access into believing you are in fact elsewhere.
If documentaries or international news is your thing, you can access BBC iPlayer and international news networks, usually blocked here in Australia, in a similar way.
How do I play games online without feeling ripped off?
It’s no surprise that online gamers are keen to navigate their way around geo-blocks when the average cost of a game is 50 per cent more in Australia. Access to the lower prices offered on the US version of online gaming service Steam is a difficult one to get around without a US credit card; however, the cheaper US prices for Play Station 3 online and Xbox LIVE can be accessed by purchasing prepaid vouchers that can be used to add credit to an account set up via a VPN if you also use a legitimate US address.
How do I set up a US iTunes account?
In the US iTunes store, the Beatles’ No. 1 album sells for US$12.99, yet Australians fork out almost 60 per cent more to buy it from an Australian IP address. To get around this, you can set up a US iTunes account by altering the country setting automatically detected when opening the iTunes store and entering a legitimate US address. To get around the US credit card requirement, it’s possible to make your maiden purchase a free app and later top up your account with prepaid US iTunes store gift cards purchased from eBay.