If you shop online abroad, i.e. cross-border, from websites based outside Ireland, in the European Union, chances are you have been geo-blocked at some point. In late 2018, Regulation (EU) 2018/302 (Geo-blocking Regulation) became applicable throughout the European Union in an effort to prevent, or at least reduce, instances where online traders unjustly discriminate against consumers based on nationality or place of residence and increase consumers’ access to goods and services within the internal market.
What is geo-blocking?
Geo-blocking happens when online sellers/providers restrict online cross-border sales based on nationality, residence or place of establishment. These practices can include:
- Preventing users wishing to engage in cross-border transactions from accessing and purchasing goods, services, or digital content offered on a trader’s website or app;
- Limiting access to online interfaces;
- Re-routing users to country-specific websites (possibly with different prices); or
- Refusing delivery or payment
How do we fix it?
The Geo-blocking Regulation aims to give all EU consumers equal rights to access a trader’s goods or services, under the same terms, irrespective of their location. The new rules aim to tackle geo-blocking as well as other forms of discrimination based on nationality, residence or establishment. It applies in principle to both business-to-consumer (B2C) and to business-to-business (B2B) transactions.
Access to website and re-routing
- An EU-based trader can no longer block or limit a customer’s access to its online interface (such as a website or app) based on their location and they cannot redirect the customer to a different online interface, without their express consent. This increases price transparency by allowing consumers to access different national websites. This also applies to non-audio-visual electronically supplied services such as e-books, music, games and software. However, geo-blocking is permitted where it is necessary to comply with EU or Member State law, but where this is the case, a clear and specific explanation must be provided.
Access to goods and services
There are now three specific situations where there can be no justified reason why a trader cannot provide customers with the same access to goods and services as local customers. These situations are:
- When a customer buys a good, such as electronics, clothes, sportswear or a book, which the trader does not deliver cross-border to the customer’s Member State. Such customers from other Member State are entitled to delivery in the Member State of the trader in the same way as local customers.
- For example, an Irish consumer wishes to buy a camera and finds the best deal on a German website. The customer will be entitled to order the good and collect it at the trader’s premises or organise delivery himself to his home.
- When a customer wants to buy an electronically supplied service, such as cloud services, data warehousing or website hosting, from a trader established in another Member State. Such customers are entitled to do so in the same way as local customers are.
- For example, an Irish consumer wishes to buy hosting services for her website from a Spanish company. She will have access to the service, can register and buy this service without having to pay additional fees compared to a Spanish customer.
- When a customer buys a service (such as concert tickets, rental accommodation or car hire) which is supplied in the premises of the trader or in a physical location where the trader operates, where those premises or that location are in another Member State than in that of the customer, they are entitled to the same treatment as local customers.
- For example, An Irish family visits a French theme park and wishes to take advantage of a family discount on the price of the entry tickets. The discounted price should be available for the Irish family, just as it is for French families.
Discrimination for reasons related to payment
While traders remain free to accept whatever payment method they wish, the Regulation prohibits discrimination where:
- Payments are made electronically by bank transfer, direct debit or card-based payment within the same brand and category (i.e. debit or credit card of a given card company);
- Authentication requirements are fulfilled; and
- The payments are in a currency that the trader accepts.
What is not covered?
Certain goods and services are excluded from the scope of the Regulation, including transport services, retail financial services and healthcare services. Importantly, the Regulation does not cover the provision of services linked to non-audiovisual copyrighted content, for example e-books, online music, software and video games. Audio-visual services also do not fall within the scope of the Regulation. The Regulation will be reviewed within two years after its entry into force which will focus on accessing its scope.
As regards disputes that may arise between consumers and traders in relation to the application of the geo-blocking Regulation, ECC Ireland, which provides free information and support to consumers with cross-border complaints, has been designated the national contact point responsible for providing consumers with practical assistance, whilst the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), has been designated as the body responsible for enforcement and monitoring compliance with the Regulation in Ireland.
Learn more about geo-blocking
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