11 December 2018
The European Consumer Centre is in favour of EU’s new geo-blocking regulation, which will be applied as of 3 December 2018. Renewals are an important step for consumer protection as online webstores within the EU can no longer unjustifiably discriminate European consumers on the basis of nationality or place of residence, also known as geo-blocking. Customers can no longer be transferred to another website, for example, without them knowing. However, a company can still decide to which countries it will deliver its products.
Regulation (EU) 2018/302 of the European Parliament and of the Council, which is part of the Digital Single Market Strategy of the European Commission and more extensive regulation on online commerce, bans unjustified geo-blocking. Previously, geo-blocking was used for restricting a consumer’s access to a website or preventing them from making a purchase in another country, or a consumer was transferred to a country-specific website, or a payment could not be completed with a credit card from another EU country.
The regulation provides all consumers within the EU uniform rights to use the services or goods of a business under the same conditions regardless of location. Thus, companies that operate in EU countries must treat European consumers in the same manner regardless of the country from where they access an online store.
This will notably increase consumers’ choices when they are shopping online and makes comparing prices easier, which will help consumers find the best products and offers.
There is no obligation to deliver products to Finland
Even though businesses that are located within the EU can no longer refuse to sell to consumers on the basis of their nationality or place of residence, the new rules do not require that products are delivered to consumers who live in another country. In other words, all products are still not necessarily delivered to Finland.
In addition, the regulation does not apply to certain goods and services, such as transport services, financial services and healthcare. It should also be noted that the regulation does not apply to providing content services protected by copyright (such as e-books, music, software and online games). Audio-visual services are also not covered by the regulation. The geo-blocking regulation is also not applied in a situation which only concerns a single member state in all respects.
Consumer Ombudsman will be in charge of supervision in Finland
The implementation of the European Union regulation requires that there is a provision on a supervisory authority on a national level. The newsletter published by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy (in Finnish) on 5 December 2018 reported that new tasks concerning the supervision of geo-blocking would be granted to the Consumer Ombudsman on the basis of a Government Decree.
The Government proposal would change the Act on the Offering of Services and the Act on Cross-Border Injunction Proceedings. Acts are proposed to enter into force as soon as possible.
The European Consumer Centre Finland, which provides guidance and assistance to consumers within EU in relation to questions regarding commerce across borders, will also assist Finnish consumers in cases concerning geo-blocking.
The European Commission: Questions and answers on the application of the regulation concerning geographically-based restrictions (practical examples; pdf)
European Parliament 2 Dec 2018: Online shopping: stopping geo-blocking and country redirects