Online shoppers rejoice – 3.12.2018 marks the (beginning of an) end to geo-blocking in the EU
Have you ever tried to watch a video online and encountered the aggravating message “This content is not available in your country”? Or have you tried to shop online on a UK website, only to be rerouted to your own local Finnish website that doesn’t have half the products and where prices seem to be twice as high? We’ve all been there, and it’s all because of geo-blocking.
Geo-blocking is a term used for the restriction of a user’s access to a website or Internet content based on the user’s geographical location. From December 3rd of this year, the EU’s so-called Geo-blocking Regulation (2018/302) will be applicable in all EU countries and put a ban on “unjustified geo-blocking and other forms of discrimination based on customers’ nationality, place of residence or place of establishment”. As can be deduced from the regulation’s full name, it tackles not only geo-blocking, but also geo-discrimination, which means the application of different conditions (e.g. price, payment methods, delivery options) to users based in different geographical locations.
But before consumers cheer too hard and small e-commerce businesses faint out of horror, let’s take a closer look at a few things this regulation does not mean.
Online stores will have to deliver to any EU country
No, companies will still have the right to freely choose their countries of operation and where they deliver their products. Customers will, however, be allowed to shop online for goods or services from another EU country, but they will have to organize pick up or delivery by themselves if the seller does not offer delivery to their place of residence. In practice: if you find an amazing deal for a camera on a Swedish website, you have the right to order and pay for it from Finland and pick it up from the seller’s premises on your weekend trip to Stockholm. Or alternatively have your friend pick it up, or organize for it to be picked up and delivered to your home in Finland, at your own expense naturally.
The EU has enacted a separate regulation on cross-border parcel delivery services (2018/644), which has applied from May 2018.
Online stores will have to apply the same prices in all countries
No, companies are still free to price their products differently on different countries’ websites. Customers will simply be free to choose which website they wish to buy from, without e.g. being rerouted to the website of their place of residence, where different prices might apply.
Companies will have to accept any electronic means of payment
No, companies will still be free to decide which payment methods they wish to accept. They may not, however, refuse a means of payment simply because of the customer’s nationality, place of residence or because the payment service provider’s establishment is in a different country. For example, if the store accepts Visa credit cards, it should accept them regardless of whether they have been issued in Belgium or in Italy.
You can finally watch that Netflix series that isn’t available in your country
Unfortunately, no. Audiovisual services are entirely left out of the scope of the Regulation, so you will continue encountering that text we all hate “This content is not available in your country”. The good news for consumers is that the scope of the regulation is to be reviewed within two years and the aim of the Digital Single Market policy is to do away with geographical restrictions also related to copyright-protected material. A small step in this direction was taken in April 2018, when the EU Regulation on the portability of online content services (2017/1128) became applicable, allowing consumers access to for example their Netflix or Spotify account while travelling abroad in the EU in exactly the same way as in their home country.