Geoblocking regulation comes into force

No more price discrimination, no more automatic forwarding: The Geoblocking Regulation now applies the same conditions to customers throughout the EU. Nevertheless, there are limits to the Regulation – in digital media, financial services and transport, for example.

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Geoblocking” – where this word is used, from the consumer’s point of view trouble is usually inevitable. Because if you first find out where you are by IP address or if you want to buy online with a foreign credit card, then the shopping pleasure can quickly come to an end. Today, a new EU regulation is coming into force that limits geoblocking in online commerce.

Customers from countries outside the delivery area of a service provider should not be discriminated against. For example, a German customer wants to buy a camera and finds the best offer on a Belgian website, but the Belgian service provider only delivers to Belgium, whether to the place of residence or to a collection point. The Belgian service provider is not obliged to deliver the goods to Germany. But he must enable the German customer, just like the Belgian customer, to order the goods and, for example, collect them himself in Belgium or have them collected by a delivery service.

A good first step

Or: If you as a customer from Germany want to buy tickets for a concert in Denmark on a Danish website, you should buy them under the same conditions as a Dane. This means that if the service offers Danes a price discount in advance, this must also apply to customers from Germany. Another change concerns access to websites: So far, online retailers have been able to use geoblocking to deny access to certain order pages if customers are based in another country.

An example: German customers who want to visit an Italian online shop should no longer be automatically redirected to a website for Germany, but first asked whether they want to be taken to the German version. Even if they allow themselves to be redirected, the originally accessed Italian version should still remain accessible. Julia Reda, MEP of the Pirate Party, considers the changes a good first step:

“This might make sense, so we had some problems like price discrimination, where buyers from different countries were shown different prices, so such things won’t be legal anymore from December”.

The limits of the regulation

Another change concerns the acceptance of foreign credit cards. A German merchant who accepts a certain credit card brand for payments via his website must now accept the same brand even if the card was issued in Austria. If merchants allow payment by bank transfer, this option should also be available to customers with a bank account in another member state.

However, there are also limits to the Regulation: Those who want to buy copyright-protected digital media such as e-books, software, computer games, films or music do not benefit from the rules. A big shortcoming, says Julia Reda:

“This is precisely where geoblocking practice will continue for the time being. This is why it is very important that the next European Parliament after the elections in May continues to put pressure on the EU Commission to submit a new proposal to abolish geoblocking once and for all”.

Financial and transport services – such as airline tickets – are also exempt from the regulation. Whether the scope of the regulation should be extended, however, will be examined in March 2020.