The EU recently introduced their General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which places a host of new responsibilities on the shoulders of businesses and websites. The regulatory changes instituted by GDPR are wide-ranging, but they ultimately add up to a much more consumer-centric attitude towards data collection. Under GDPR, businesses must now get the explicit consent of their users to collect or sell their data.
While businesses have had some time to prepare for the implementation of GDPR, for a variety of reasons, many have not. Companies and websites who wish to operate within the EU must abide by GDPR. This means any sites that don’t currently have the appropriate measures in place to ensure GDPR compliance must either block access to their websites from within the EU or face potentially enormous fines.
A large number of businesses have, understandably, taken the former approach. In many cases, these websites have plans to reopen to EU traffic in the future once they have appropriate data policies in place. However, some businesses and other organizations have shown little interest in reopening their digital doors to the EU. Are these sites lost to European traffic forever? Not with a bit of know-how!
How Does Geo-Blocking Work?
When your computer connects to the internet, it is assigned a unique number: its internet protocol address (IP address). Whenever your computer requests information from a website, as it does whenever you are accessing online content, it includes its’ IP address with that request. IP addresses are issued to ISPs, who then allocate them to their customers.
There are a variety of databases out there which match IP addresses with their country of origin. These databases, which are known as ‘geoblocks,’ are used by websites to mass block the IP addresses allocated to a particular geographical location.
As you might have guessed, circumventing this geo-blocking requires making the website think that our IP address is actually coming from another country. The easiest way to do this is to connect to sites through an intermediary, such as another computer or server located in another geographic region. Below are some of the ways you can achieve this.
The Onion Router, more commonly known as TOR, is a piece of software that is designed to improve your anonymity online. As well as preventing you from being tracked by disabling cookies, TOR keeps your IP address hidden by rerouting your connection through a series of other computers before connecting you to the internet.
Note that, while TOR is very secure, you can’t control the exit node through which you connect to the web. If that node is in the EU, you will have to try again.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A VPN is by far the best way of avoiding GDPR-related geo-blocking. With a VPN, your computer first connects to a remote server, and then to the internet through that. Most paid VPN services (and you should avoid free VPNs like the plague) will have servers across the world and will let you choose which country your connection is routed through.
As well as allowing you to avoid any geo-blocking measures, a VPN will also encrypt your traffic, making it difficult to snoop on you. Given events over the last couple of years, from high profile data breaches of major corporations and governments to the Facebook – Cambridge Analytica scandal, there is now greater awareness regarding online privacy.
A VPN is, therefore, well worth investigating, even if you have no specific need to circumvent geo-blocking. Once you have such a service in place, you will discover that there are other benefits to being able to mask your IP address.
Proxies, like free VPN services, should be avoided. A proxy works along the same principles as a VPN, but your data will not be encrypted. You have no way of knowing how much of your data is being retained by the proxy owners, or what they are doing with it.
Geo-blocking can be a real pain, especially when websites you often use suddenly become inaccessible. However, bypassing these geo-blocking restrictions is much more straightforward than many people realize. Whichever method you decide to use, you should check the service you are planning to use and ensure that it has a good reputation.
About the Author:
Harold 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.