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What is geo-blocking, and how does it work?

Have you ever ended up on a foreign website that blocked your access? Did you notice that streaming platforms offer different content to different regions? These are both examples of geo-blocking you may encounter every day. Discover how geo-blocking works and if it’s legal.

What is geo-blocking, and how does it work?

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is geo-blocking?

Geo-blocking definition

Geo-blocking means restricting or blocking access to online resources based on the user’s geographic location. Companies often use this type of content restriction to fulfill their copyright and licensing agreements. For instance, a streaming service provider may only buy rights to show TV series in a number of countries and not worldwide.

Geo-blocking is also used to enforce local laws and regulations, especially in countries under authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian governments often ban content that doesn’t correspond to their ideology and, as a result, make an abundance of foreign websites inaccessible.

How does geo-blocking work?

Whenever geo-restrictions are at work, the system that manages the online resources checks the location from which you request to connect. The easiest way to do that is to check your internet protocol (IP) address.

Internet service providers (ISPs) issue an identification number – an IP address – to each device under their service. Though the IP address doesn’t include details about your exact location, it’s tied to an ISP and shows its zip code, city, and country. Whenever you want to access a website, that webpage has to check your IP address – it’s the only way for the website to know where it should send the requested content.

Websites that use geo-blocking typically use a restricted IP database to check if your IP address is viable for connection. If it’s found to be coming from a location the website doesn’t want to service, the web page simply doesn’t send you the requested data.

Websites can also check your location and restrict access by examining which country manages your domain name system (DNS) service as well as checking your payment data location or GPS data. Your whereabouts can also be disclosed by the language your device uses to interact with the network or the currency you use for online transactions.

Geo-blocking systems can even inspect the latency of your connection, checking if your device’s claim about where your data is coming from matches the usual speed of connecting from that location.

What does geo-blocking do?

The main idea behind geo-blocking is to provide online content only to residents of the countries that own licensing agreements for that particular content. Geo-blocking can also be used to run a location-based authentication, protect citizens from fraud, or block malicious traffic from foreign websites. Below, find some real-life examples of how geo-blocking can affect your everyday life.

Examples of geo-blocking

You can encounter geo-blocking in various situations, for instance when:

  • Using streaming platforms. The content on streaming platforms is usually bound to licensing agreements that determine which locations can access content legally. Streaming service providers and distributors or content creators are responsible for making these agreements.
  • Using online banking services. One of the security tools that banks use to fight online fraud is checking their clients’ IP addresses. It helps to assess if the clients are trying to access their accounts from their usual location or if they are, in fact, hackers trying to steal their client’s sensitive data.
  • Visiting countries under restrictive governments. Countries under authoritarian regimes often impose laws banning particular subjects and web pages. Sometimes, authoritarian countries may also ask content providers for modified versions of popular websites with information adapted to their laws. This means citizens or visitors of such countries cannot access original content originating in foreign, usually democratic, countries.

Is geo-blocking legal?

Yes, geo-blocking is a legal practice that helps uphold copyright laws and licensing agreements. Different entities may own the rights to restricted online content in different countries or regions, which means these content owners can only sell or distribute the content in their designated jurisdiction.

However, in some instances, geo-blocking can be considered illegal. For example, the EU Council has banned geo-blocking within the EU states whenever it’s considered unjustified. The idea behind this ban was to create net neutrality in the EU and offer equal opportunities for EU citizens to purchase goods from the member states.

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