YouTube has tightened its crackdown on ad blockers, but faces a new challenge: European Union (EU) privacy laws. Privacy expert Alexander Hanff filed a complaint in October with the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC). Hanff argues that YouTube’s ad blocker detection system violates users’ privacy rights and is fair under EU law.
Hanff argues that AdBlock detection scripts are essentially spyware and that their use without the user’s consent is unacceptable. He believes that any use of technology that can spy on device users is unethical and illegal in most cases. For now, Hanff has no intention of backing down: “I’m fighting to take privacy rights almost two steps further. If YouTube continues to think it can deploy spyware on our devices with impunity, I will stop it.”
This initiative did not meet with user approval or privacy guidelines. Wired reports that people are installing and uninstalling ad blockers at record speed as they search for ad blockers that bypass YouTube restrictions. Meanwhile, YouTube claims that ad blockers violate the platform’s rules and prevent creators from earning money from advertising.
Hanff first approached the European Commission with questions about the use of ad blocker search tools back in 2016. In response to his concerns, the commission said such scripts fall within the scope of Article 5.3 of the ePrivacy Directive, which requires websites to access users before storing or accessing information on their devices. However, this did not lead to changes in the way websites search for ad blockers. In 2017, the European Commission changed its position as part of privacy law reform, stating that websites have the right to check whether users have ad blockers without their consent.
If the European Commission finds that YouTube’s ad blocker detection system violates the EU’s ePrivacy Directive, it could impose fines on the platform and force it to change current practices, notes NIXSolutions. It’s too early to tell how the regulator will respond to Hanff’s challenge, but the result is unlikely to lead to any changes to the parallel system for US users.