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First things first: What is geo-blocking?

How to avoid GDPR geo-blocking

Harold Kilpatrick
GDPR
© Shutterstock / SB_photos

In the case of the GDPR, many of the websites that have decided to utilize geo-blocking are doing so out of an abundance of caution, not because of specific transgressions. But why have we not seen actions like these taken before? The answer to that is simple: the stakes are much higher now.

The General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, is a set of EU-wide rules for data protection and privacy. Since its introduction on May 25th, the GDPR has caused major confusion and headaches. Some degree of chaos is to be expected during any such major upheaval, but in the case of GDPR, it has been particularly pronounced.

One of the issues facing the GDPR is that, as it stands, some of the regulations appear contradictory and will need to be ironed out in court. The law allows for potentially massive fines for any transgressions, which has pushed many businesses towards erring on the side of caution. Rather than risk facing those fines, a number of companies have taken the drastic step of simply restricting access to users from the EU.

What is geo-blocking?

Geo-blocking is the practice of blocking all the traffic to a website that is coming from a certain geographical region (as determined by the user’s IP address). There are a number of reasons why a site might block access to certain users or divert them to a different page. This is usually done because a business or service operates legally in one location but cannot operate legally in another.

Geo-blocking is an effective means of preventing certain users from accessing a website. GDPR Shield is a new JavaScript-based solution that makes it easy for sites to block access from the EU member states. For websites that are uncertain about their compliance, many have chosen to play it safe and make use of the shield, at least until things are clearer from the legal perspective.

Why are websites geo-blocking?

In the case of the GDPR, many of the websites that have decided to utilize geo-blocking are doing so out of an abundance of caution, not because of specific transgressions. But why have we not seen actions like these taken before? The answer to that is simple: the stakes are much higher now. The GDPR sets out steep financial penalties for any organizations that are found to be flouting the new rules.

For some non-EU businesses, the share of their market that the EU accounts for is not great enough to justify the risk of facing a GDPR fine. In such cases, remaining open despite uncertainties about their privacy policy is a risk that they cannot afford to take.

Unfortunately, this can be very frustrating for the users of these websites. If you are used to being able to regularly access a site or service, and suddenly find yourself cut off due to geo-blocking, don’t despair! While geo-blocking is a necessary step for many businesses to take in order to protect themselves legally, it is easy for a determined internet user to circumvent it and gain access to a website anyway.

SEE ALSO: Developing in the cloud in the age of GDPR

Circumventing geo-blocking

The first thing to make clear is that, by accessing a geo-blocked website, you are not in any way breaking the law or doing anything you shouldn’t. Geo-blocking uses a user’s IP address to determine their physical location, meaning that if you can make it think that you are accessing the website from outside the EU, it will give you access as normal.

If you are someone who already takes their online privacy very seriously, you might already use a virtual private network (VPN) service. However, most people will have had no cause to investigate such a thing before. Don’t worry if that’s you – VPNs sound a lot more complicated than they actually are. In fact, most of what they do is automated, and they are increasingly being pitched at less tech-savvy users.

Make sure that your VPN is set to connect to a non-EU server. It shouldn’t matter where in the world you show yourself as coming from, but be aware that many websites will also use geolocation to determine the default language. It is a good idea to choose another English-speaking country just to avoid any issues.

Using a VPN to circumvent the GDPR geo-blocking isn’t just a simple way of regaining access to websites that have been blocked. It is also a great way of improving your overall online privacy. With a VPN, you don’t have to worry about being tracked and targeted by advertisers constantly while online. In fact, a VPN is a great idea, whether you are hoping to bypass geo-blocking or not.

Author

Harold Kilpatrick

Harold Kilpatrick is a cybersecurity consultant and a freelance blogger. He’s currently working on a cybersecurity campaign to raise awareness around the threats that businesses can face online.


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