Navigating online geo-blocking

Not all retailers have embraced the web as a "borderless world", with geo-blocking forcing Australians to pay more.
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01.Shopping without walls

Navigate your way around geo-blocking

Geo-blocking prevents shoppers in some countries from accessing cheaper prices overseas through internet service provider (ISP) restrictions. 

In this report you'll find information about:

What is geo-blocking?

Restricting access to content based on geographic location by using copyright and licensing restrictions is a popular strategy used by multinational tech giants so they can set different prices in different regions of the globe. The frustrating reality of geo-blocking is common for Australian consumers, who are often charged hefty mark-ups on products from companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, based on their IP address.

While Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are among the main culprits, streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu also divide the globe into segments, only to grant access to those with a certain IP address (the numerical address that identifies your computer).

A CHOICE analysis, conducted in June 2013 for a parliamentary inquiry into IT price discrimination and based on online prices of more than 200 products, found Australian consumers pay an average of 50% more for PC games, 34% more for software, 52% more for iTunes music, 41% more for computer hardware and a huge 88% more for Wii games than our US counterparts. Although these prices don’t take into account the average 9.6% US sales tax (iTunes prices also don’t include Australian GST), the mark-up remains considerable nonetheless.

Fortunately for Australian consumers, there are other options that allow you to navigate your way around invisible boundaries to access more content and cheaper prices.

For more information about shopping online, see Networking and internet.

Is it legal?

The legality of circumventing geo-blocking is a grey area. Some copyright experts claim those who promote devices or programs that encourage people to infringe copyright are breaking the law. However, CHOICE believes consumers who circumvent measures used to protect copyrighted content should be exempt from what could be construed as a breach of copyright simply because they’re accessing products and services that are being provided knowingly and willingly by the copyright holder.

It is legal to use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your online transactions from hackers, and there’s little definitive evidence as to whether other uses of a VPN breach copyright law.

It’s also important to note that circumventing geo-blocks may breach the terms and conditions of the company you’re buying from – and if discovered, your account could be cancelled, losing credit and access to your downloads.

According to the ACCC, your rights when dealing with overseas-based companies to buy products may not be protected by Australian law. While some companies, such as Apple, have international warranties, others, such as Canon and Nintendo, say they refuse to recognise products purchased internationally under domestic consumer law.



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