Watching movies can be a great way to learn languages. One of the most convenient ways to watch English and foreign language movies are on-demand streaming services like Hulu or Netflix.

Unfortunately though, Hulu and Netflix (and others) can only be accessed from a certain limited number of countries. To bypass this, so far the only solution has been to pay for a VPN service that “tunnels” your web traffic outside your country of residence, but these services are often costly and sometimes require running third-party software in the background.

Admittedly, I was more than just a bit skeptical when I stumbled over mediahint, a new browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that promises to circumvent these geo-blockades.

So I decided to give it a try and installed the extension (no sign up required). After a few seconds I was browsing Hulu and clicked on a TV series, only to expect the “not available in your country” message, but against all expectations it worked and the stream started playing.

BEFORE: without the extension installed

AFTER: extension installed

Next up I tested Netflix. The site also loaded without problems. Instead of the “only for US” I was seeing the sign up page for new accounts.

How about Pandora? Tested it: works! I am listening to it while writing this blog post.

How does it work?

Apparentlythe extensions routes your traffic–just the traffic for the streaming service–through U.S.-based proxies so you can enjoy content unavailable in your home country.”

Who’s behind it?

The service is advertised as a result of garage48, a startup incubator that has won various awards in the past, which lends the project a bit of credibility.

Is it safe to use?

This almost sounds too good to be true. Are they tracking their users? According to their Privacy Policy:

We DO NOT monitor, collect or store any information about the websites you visit or information you provide in any of these websites while using Our Services. [...] We collect data only about your behaviour on Our Site and information you submit to us yourself.

That doesn’t seem terribly bad, does it?

What’s the catch?

This is what many people are wondering right now. Proxy traffic is usually expensive, so it doesn’t seem to make much sense that mediahint is giving something away for free that other companies charge for. The consensus at the moment is that it’s probably just a matter of time until this service is blocked or stops working, so enjoy it while it lasts! On the other hand, maybe this the first sign for a change in policy, or at least easier circumvention regarding draconian geo-fencing practices.

UPDATE: According to the official Mediahint Facebook page this service “will stay free for some time as we are still searching best way to monetize it. Currently we accept donations via PayPal and Flattr. Donations help us keep our servers online.”

In any case, if this service should become dependable, I’d be more than happy to pay for a monthly Netflix/Hulu subscription, especially the Criterion Collection looks very juicy. Did you hear that, policy makers? I want to pay. Just allow me!

UPDATE: According to Reddit user viciouslove and others there might be some privacy issues with this extension. While the code isn’t necessarily malicious it routes all your traffic through its proxy, not just the traffic of Hulu, Netflix, etc.

More secure free alternatives were suggested in the same thread: tunlr.net (tested it, works with Hulu & Pandora, not Netflix) and spotflux (very slow, but circumvention generally works).

UPDATE: other (non-free) DNS options that I have tested: ZenOk and unblock-us, both offer a 7 day free trial.

UPDATE: Yet another free alternative is Hola, a Chrome and Firefox extension which unblocks an impressive range of websites from all over the world.