NIXsolutions: YouTube Violated EU laws in Its War Against Ad Blockers

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.

NIX Solutions

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.”

YouTube services can detect the presence of an ad blocker by using JavaScript code to make changes to the Diptychs page or enable blocking of elements necessary for advertising to be served. The company began blocking ad blockers in a small trial in June, but has since confirmed it will tighten the measure. As a result, there has been an increase in the number of users who, with ad blockers enabled, are unable to view videos on the platform. Instead of videos, YouTube offers to allow advertising on the site or to subscribe to YouTube Premium.

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.