Geo-block­ing

When traders who are active in the EU internal market do not give European consumers or undertakings acting as end-users the opportunity to purchase goods or services across borders, we call it geo-blocking. It is also geo-blocking whenever goods or services are not offered on the same terms as for local residents. The regulation on addressing unjustified geo-blocking and other forms of discrimination based on customers' citizenship, place of residence or place of establishment within the internal market has applied since 3 December 2018 (referred to as the geo-blocking regulation).

Geoblocking123RF / avemario

What is geo-blocking?

There are various ways for traders of goods and services to find out the countries their customers are from. An online trader can detect a foreign buyer, for example, by the address used when making a purchase by credit card, the IP address or the buyer’s telephone number, and then block its website or change its prices and conditions. There are various possible means of geo-blocking.

For example, when making online purchases, customers from other EU countries might be prevented from

  • accessing one or more country-specific versions of a trader’s online store
  • placing an order and having the purchased goods delivered within the trader’s delivery area
  • putting an item in their basket, or
  • paying with a credit card.

It is also possible for geo-blocking to occur when making purchases in person, for instance if there are different entry prices for tourists and local people.

In everyday language, geo-blocking is often used to refer to cross-border restrictions on streaming services.
But: These restrictions on audiovisual services do not fall under the scope of the geo-blocking regulation since they are an exception under Article 2(2) (g) of Directive 2006/123/EC (Services Directive). Further exceptions are listed below under “What exceptions are there?”

Who is protected?

The geo-blocking regulation protects “customers”. These are consumers who hold citizenship from an EU country or have their place of residence in an EU country. The regulation also protects end-use undertakings if they are based in an EU country and receive a service solely for end use or purchase goods for end use. The geo-blocking regulation, however, does not protect undertakings that resell, convert, process or lease goods or services, or transfer them to subcontractors.

What isn't allowed?

Discrimination due to a customer’s place of residence, place of establishment or citizenship is generally prohibited. The bottom line is that people should be able to "shop like a local" throughout the EU.

Some examples of different types of prohibited discrimination:

Blocking or limiting a customer's access to online interfaces (websites and applications)
Example: You want to place an order at an online store in France and are automatically redirected to the German version of the online store.
Discriminatory general conditions of access to goods or services
Example: Different conditions for car rental according to the contracting party's country of origin.
Discrimination related to payment
Example: An online trader allows payment by credit card, but only for customers from the trader’s country of origin. There is no payment option for international customers.

What exceptions are there?

The geo-blocking regulation has numerous exceptions, both for certain types of service and for certain cases where differential treatment is justified (eg as a result of other legal provisions). The most important exceptions are:

audiovisual services (eg streaming services);
financial services, such as banking and services relating to credit, insurance and reinsurance, occupational or personal pensions, securities, investment funds, payments and investment advice, including the services listed in Annex I to Directive 2006/48/EC (eg financial leasing);
electronic communications services and networks, and associated facilities and services;
transport services, such as rail or air, and including port services but excluding travel packages;
services provided by temporary work agencies;
healthcare services, whether or not they are provided via healthcare facilities and regardless of how they are organised and financed at the national level or whether they are public or private;
gambling activities that involve wagering a stake with pecuniary value in games of chance, including lotteries, gambling in casinos and betting transactions;
activities that are connected with the exercise of official authority as under Article 51 TFEU-- Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (previously Article 45 of the EC Treaty establishing the European Community);
social services relating to social housing, childcare and the support of families and persons permanently or temporarily in need that are provided by the State, by providers mandated by the State or by charities recognised as such by the State;
private security services;
services provided by notaries and bailiffs who are appointed by an official act of government;
non-economic services of general interest, such as those services that are not provided for remuneration.

Important information about shipping goods

When selling physical goods online, traders are generally free to choose the area where they operate and therefore also the area where they deliver goods. Customers therefore cannot necessarily demand that the seller ship the goods to their home address. However, sellers must facilitate delivery of the goods to a location within their delivery area (eg a location on or near the national border). The customer can then either collect the goods from there or organise collection by a logistics company.
If a trader offers delivery to other EU countries, the trader may charge higher delivery costs than for within the trader’s home region.

Different conditions for various customer groups are allowed

Traders may vary the prices and conditions for their goods and services for different customer groups or different countries. They may also target different customer groups using different websites for each country and using different languages. If, however, a customer from a different EU country wants to place an order through the trader’s local website, the customer must be able to do so at the same prices and under the same conditions as a local.

For example, A German trader operates different country-specific versions of its online shop, with differing prices and conditions. A French customer places an order on the German website instead of the French website that was intended for the French customer. In this case, the French customer must be able to order the goods at the same prices and under the same conditions as German customers.

What to do when there is a violation

The Bundesnetzagentur is responsible for implementing the geo-blocking regulation in Germany. It can issue orders and impose fines on German traders who contravene the regulation.

Within the framework of the European CPC network, the Bundesnetzagentur can require the competent national authority of the EU country concerned to enact measures against traders in other EU countries. CPC stands for Consumer Protection Cooperation and refers to a European network of agencies whose task is to uphold consumer rights.


If you want to submit a complaint against a trader for breaching the provisions of the geo-blocking regulation, you can use our online-form.

News

Brexit information
Once the transitional period ends on 31 December 2020, EU regulations concerning geo-blocking will no longer apply for the UK. This means that traders from the UK can block access to their websites for customers from the EU, for example.
But: Traders from the UK whose goods and services are intended for the market of a specific EU country must continue to abide by the European Union’s regulations on geo-blocking. This could be the case, for example, when a website offers goods or services in euros, a local language such as German is used on the website, or the website has a country-specific domain such as “.de”. In dealings with these traders, customers from the EU will still be able to rely on the geo-blocking regulation.
Additional information can be found at:
EU-Com Notice to stakeholders regarding Brexit and geo-blocking (pdf / 161 KB)

Links

Date of modification: 2020.11.16