The European Union has a number of restrictions in place that make it challenging to access certain types of content or entire websites on the Internet.
Internet activists want a free and open Internet above all else, but unfortunately various rules and regulations throughout the globe restrict what people can and cannot see. When someone mentions Internet censorship, many people think about China and its GreatFirewall. However, Europe also has a number of restrictions in place that make it challenging to access certain types of content or entire websites on the Internet.
EU Copyright Directive
The EU has introduced a new Copyright Directive that applies to large platforms that support user-generated content. Companies that operate these websites have to keep a copyrighted works database and prevent users from posting anything from that database. However, these databases are crowdsourced which makes it easy for malicious actors to exploit. Article 13 does not require users to submit proof that a work is copyrighted before putting it in the copyrighted works database.
This regulation impacts social media sites the most, as copyrighted works that fall under fair use in other parts of the world may fall under Article 13 for European users. Social media platforms must determine how to handle a situation that involves users from multiple locations. They may choose to block the EU-based user from seeing those works or prevent them from uploading it.
This type of censorship can make it difficult to engage with other users on social media and limit creativity and conversations. It’s a difficult situation for global social media sites to be in, especially when entire forms of Internet culture, such as memes, may use copyrighted images as their backdrop. The long-term impact on Article 13 is difficult to determine, but it does take away from a free and open internet. It has not yet been voted on, so hopefully changes will be made before it potentially passes.
General Data Protection Plan
The General Data Protection Plan, or GDPR, is an EU regulation that puts protections in place for user data. Companies that potentially have access to EU citizen data must follow a number of strict rules about the way they collect, use and store it. While this regulation is very helpful for protecting the privacy and data of individuals, it also has an unfortunate side effect.
Some businesses that are based outside of the EU are choosing to block all European traffic rather than go through the steps required to protect EU citizen data. When someone visits one of these websites from an EU-based IP, they get a message that the company is not allowing EU traffic due to the GDPR restrictions. One reason that companies may choose to do this is because of the technical requirements that may be too costly for them to implement.
For example, EU citizens must be able to see the data that the company collects and request for it to be deleted. If an organization can’t put these measures into place, then they run the risk of getting a costly fine. While this regulation is not designed to censor the Internet, it does make it difficult for EU citizens to access resources they were previously able to.
Illegal Types of Content
The European Union is looking at the problem of terrorist content and what it should do about that. One idea that’s being passed around Europe currently is a directive for online platforms to remove content that’s deemed “terrorist” within an hour of being informed of it. National authorities would be the ones determining whether content falls under the terrorist heading, which opens up a lot of potential for abuse.
If the government officials in charge want to control the narrative around protests and other forms of dissent, it would be straightforward to start flagging all content that relates to these movements. Since many protests use social media platforms to organize, this can have a widespread impact on peaceful protests and other actions that aren’t supported by the people in charge. While someone can appeal the decision, the content still gets removed in the meantime. Putting control over acceptable speech in government hands is a concerning move and will lead to significant Internet censorship.
The complexities of global media licensing can result in some content being unavailable in Europe. For example, if a streaming video service only has a license that covers US rights for a movie, then they can’t offer it to users outside of that country. If they fail to comply with the licensing terms, then they may lose the ability to show that content or end up damaging their relationship with the company that produced the show.
When content is region-locked, the website will indicate that the content is not available in the visitor’s country. Another website or service may hold the license for the EU, or it may not be available at all. Region-locked media can be frustrating to deal with, and acts as another form of Internet censorship in Europe.
Getting Around Internet Censorship in Europe
One way to get around some Internet censorship in Europe is to use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, service. A VPN makes a user’s web traffic appear like it’s coming from a different country. It does this by routing the person’s traffic through a server in that country before connecting to the Internet-based resource. VPN services are most useful for getting around region-locked content, which is commonplace on YouTube, Netflix and other streaming video providers.
VPNs also give users added privacy and security. The data that they send is encrypted, so the Internet Service Provider can’t see what the person is accessing online. Many VPN services do not log user activities, so if the authorities subpoena the company, they won’t get any useful information about anybody. Sometimes all a person needs is an email address to start using a VPN. Read more about how to get around geo-restrictions.
Governments in the EU and beyond are struggling to address the challenges facing a global Internet community without resorting to heavy-handed censorship. Internet users are the ones paying the price with these restrictions, but VPNs can alleviate some problems with region-locking and restricted content.