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Bypassing restrictions, Russians gain access to Western entertainment platforms

Previously, for Russian users, watching a TV series on the American streaming service Netflix or downloading a new online game from Steam was a matter of a few clicks.

But the exodus of Western companies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made access to hundreds of popular entertainment platforms much more difficult, spawning a network of intermediaries, often abroad, that allow Russians to continue using their favorite online services.

The biggest problem for many was conclusion Visa and Mastercard are from the Russian market, which means that they do not have the ability to pay a subscription fee. PayPal payment service also suspended their services in Russia.

Netflix and other major streaming services such as Spotify, AppleTV+, Megogo and Amazon Prime, as well as other major platforms such as pornography provider Pornhub, require monthly payments – as do gaming platforms such as Battle.net, Steam, XBox and PlayStation .

One popular workaround is to use a subscription service owned by family or friends abroad.

If a non-Russian card is used to pay, Russians can continue to watch Netflix shows or Spotify streaming – as long as they turn on the VPN, which hides their physical location.

A reporter for The Moscow Times used this trick to access Netflix in Russia and was able to continue using the service after being added to the account of a friend in India.

However, not every Russian user has a friend abroad who is ready to help.

For these people, there is a growing network of online resellers offering space on shared accounts on entertainment platforms.

Stock catalog (CC BY 2.0)

Stock catalog (CC BY 2.0)

hundreds advertising on the popular Russian online platform Avito offer access to “family” subscriptions to Netflix, Spotify, Xbox, PlayStation and other platforms. Before the war, a Netflix Premium subscription in Russia cost up to 999 rubles ($17) per month. Now you can buy it for 390 rubles ($6) per month or cheaper on Avito.

Similar schemes are used by Russian gamers who can no longer use Russian bank cards to make purchases on Western gaming platforms.

Vendors on online marketplaces such as Avito and Plati.ru sell “keys” for video games that were bought in foreign countries – in particular, in Argentina, Armenia and Kazakhstan – where prices are lower, Cybersport game portal informed.

These keys cost up to $20, according to an online ad reviewed by The Moscow Times. For example, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare online game can be downloaded for free from illegal Russian torrent sites, and a key can be purchased on Plati.ru for $13.

But the risk of fraud with such options is high.

“It’s worth checking how reliable the seller is – look at the reviews and ratings,” one of them warns. management for online gamers, published by the Russian banking magazine Tinkoff Journal.

“In 99% of cases, such offers are fraudulent,” says Vladimir Makarov, an expert at IT security consulting firm T.Hunter. “In the remaining 1% of cases, we are talking about buying a new subscription account or a stolen one.”

At the same time, Russians still have ways to transact internationally, albeit much more labor-intensive.

Iggy Pakanowski / unsplash

Iggy Pakanowski / unsplash

Some companies offer deposits to accounts registered in Russia on the popular gaming site Steam. MTS-Bank, fintech division of the largest Russian mobile operator MTS, provides such a service through its application, although it warns that the commission can reach 22%.

Kazakhstan lately closed a program through which foreigners could obtain an individual identification number (IIN) online, which allowed them to open an account in a Kazakhstani bank according to the number of applications for IIN from foreigners. reportedly increased by 16 times compared to March.

Sergei, 27, who lives in St. Petersburg, says information about loopholes is easy to find.

According to Sergei, prior to receiving a Kazakhstani IIN and paying through a Kazakhstani bank account, he used the Bankoff financial management application to make payments on Western websites. He transferred the money to his Bankoff account after buying cryptocurrency for rubles.

But this loophole was closed in May after protests by Visa and Mastercard.

The Russian payment system Qiwi can still be used for payments on Western entertainment platforms. Sergey said that he and other Russian users were able to purchase games on Steam by exchanging rubles for Kazakh tenge through Qiwi.

Sometimes the easiest way to access entertainment platforms is to hide your location with a VPN. The Moscow Times reporter was able to use a Spotify account by logging into a music streaming service with a VPN that showed he was outside of Russia.

However, VPNs don’t always work, not least because more and more entertainment services are automatically blocking users with VPNs.

While evading national regulations is a breach of contract with Spotify and other Western entertainment companies, it is legal in Russia.

“From a legal point of view, the use of Tor or VPN does not fall under any article of the Criminal Code,” said expert Makarov.

Even Russians living abroad still have access problems.

After Google blocked access to YouTube Premium and Netflix for all Google accounts registered from Russian territory, Aleksandra, a Russian citizen living in India who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, said she could not even use her Indian bank card for making payments.

“It was very scary. All my data is in Google, it’s like my digital soul,” she said.

According to expert Marakov, many of the illegal schemes for accessing Western entertainment content are reminiscent of practices common in the early 2000s, when users relied on torrents.

“Now we are back to the time when you had to go to a physical store to buy something, or look for options on the Internet, not knowing if it was a scam or not. Another option is to use torrents – just download and watch,” Makarov said.

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