10th December 2018
Consumers can no longer be restricted from accessing websites based on their location
Consumers will be able to compare and avail of products and services across EU websites
A new European Geo-blocking Regulation has taken effect for Irish businesses and consumers. Geo-blocking is the practice of using technology to restrict access to online cross-border sales based upon the user's geographical location. The Geo-Blocking Regulation ensures that all consumers in the EU will now have the same rights to access a trader’s goods and services on the same terms, irrespective of their location.
Commenting on the commencement of the new Regulation, Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen, said, “The Geo-blocking Regulation represents another important gain for Irish consumers from Ireland’s implementation of the Digital Single Market Strategy. It creates a clear, transparent and stable legal environment for online Business-to-Consumer service providers and their business users. With the commencement of the Geo-blocking Regulation Irish consumers will now enjoy increased price transparency as they will be able to compare offerings across the entire EU to access the best prices and sales conditions. It also provides Member States with the necessary structures, powers and procedures to ensure that national enforcement authorities can deal effectively with widespread infringements of consumer protection laws which carry the risk of harming consumer welfare on a wide scale.”
The Geo-blocking Regulation applies to transactions which have a cross-border element. From December 3rd 2018 the new rules mean that the following:
- EU-based businesses are no longer allowed to block or limit a customer from accessing their website based on their location and they cannot automatically redirect a customer to a different online interface without their express consent.
- In certain circumstances businesses must provide consumers with the same access and possibility to acquire goods and services as local customers. In terms of setting prices, this means that a trader can have different prices on websites aimed at different territories, but customers must not be confined to buying from the website aimed at their location.
- While traders are free to accept whatever payment method they wish, the Geo-blocking Regulation prohibits them from treating those payment methods differently depending on the location of the customer.
If a consumer has a dispute with a business under the Regulation, the European Consumer Centre Ireland can provide information to consumers about their rights, help them settle a dispute with a trader located in another Member State or explain the next steps a consumer can take. From a compliance perspective, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has responsibility for enforcement and monitoring compliance with the Regulations in business-to-consumer relationships.
Speaking today, Fergal O’Leary, Member of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) said, “It is important that businesses who sell online within the EU understand their obligations under the Geo-blocking Regulation and that businesses, if they haven’t done so already, now undertake a review of their trading terms and digital platforms to ensure compliance. Our initial focus is to help businesses understand their obligations. We want to make it as easy as possible and so, to help businesses understand these obligations, we have developed a new guide which provides an overview of the different requirements under the Geo-blocking Regulation. Our website ccpc.ie provides these guidelines and a range of other supports for businesses.”
Notes to Editor
The EU Digital Single Market
- The EU Digital Single Market is one in which the free movement of persons, services and capital is ensured and where the individuals and businesses can seamlessly access and exercise online activities under conditions of fair competition, and a high level of consumer and personal data protection, irrespective of their nationality or place of residence.
- A fully functional EU Digital Single Market would bring many benefits to European businesses and consumers. It would promote innovation, contribute €415 billion to the EU economy each year and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
- Ireland’s cross-governmental implementation of the EU Digital Single Market Strategy is led by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.
- The Geo-blocking Regulation is an important element of the EU Digital Single Market Strategy which, so far, has delivered other benefits for EU citizens including the ending of roaming charges across the EU and the widespread access to film, sport, music, video game and e-book subscriptions regardless of location within the EU.
What is Geo-blocking?
Geo-blocking refers to practices used by online traders to restrict online cross-border sales based on nationality, residence or place of establishment. Geo-blocking practices include: denying access to websites from other Member States, and/or situations where access to a website is granted, but the customer from abroad is prevented from finalising the purchase or is asked to pay with a debit or credit card from a certain country. ‘Geo-discrimination’ also takes place when buying goods and services off-line, e.g. when consumers are physically present at the trader’s location but are either prevented from accessing a product or service, or they are offered different conditions due to their nationality or residence.
What is the Geo-blocking Regulation?
Regulation (EU) 2018/302 (‘Geo-blocking Regulation’) aims to provide consumers and businesses within the EU’s internal market with more opportunities. It addresses the problem of some customers not being able to buy goods and services from traders located in a different Member State because of their nationality, place of residence or place of establishment. The Regulation provides for an obligation to treat EU customers (including consumers and other end-users) in the same manner when they are in the same situation.
- An Irish customer wants to buy a camera and finds the best deal on a German website, however it only offers delivery/pick-up points in Germany or collection at the trader’s premises. The customer is now entitled to order the goods and collect them at the trader’s premises or have them delivered to another address/pick-up point in Germany, just like any German consumer.
- An Irish customer wants to access the Italian version of an online clothing store’s website. Even though she types in the URL of the Italian site, she gets redirected to the Irish site. The Regulation will require that a customer explicitly gives consent before being redirected. Even if the customer gives consent to the redirection, the original version she sought to visit should remain accessible.
- An Irish customer, resident in the country wants to buy a book from the Irish version website of a bookstore established in Ireland that does not sell outside of the country. The Regulation does not apply in this case. There is no cross-border element.
SI No 513 of 2018 European Union (Unjustified Geo-Blocking of Consumers) Regulations 2018
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