YouTube has tightened its crackdown on ad blockers, but is facing a new challenge: European Union (EU) data protection laws. Data protection expert Alexander Hanff filed a complaint with the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) in October. Hanff argues that YouTube’s ad blocker detection system violates users’ privacy rights and is illegal under EU law.
Hanff argues that AdBlock detection scripts are essentially spyware and that their use without user consent is unacceptable. He believes that any use of technology that can spy on users’ devices is, in most cases, unethical and illegal. Hanff has no intention of giving in for now: “I have been fighting for stronger privacy protections for almost two decades. If YouTube continues to believe it can spread spyware on our devices with impunity, I will stop it.“
This initiative was not welcomed by users and privacy advocates. Wired reports that people are installing and uninstalling ad blockers at record speeds 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 making money from advertising.
Hanff first contacted the European Commission in 2016 about the use of ad blocker detection tools. In response to its concerns, the Commission confirmed that such scripts fall under Article 5.3 of the ePrivacy Directive, which requires websites to obtain users’ consent before storing or accessing information on their devices. However, this did not lead to significant changes in how ad blockers are detected on websites. In 2017, as part of data protection law reform, the European Commission changed its position and declared that websites have the right to check whether users are using ad blockers without their consent.
If the European Commission finds that YouTube’s ad blocker detection system violates the EU’s e-Privacy Directive, it could fine the platform and force it to change its current practices. It’s too early to say how the regulator will respond to Hanff’s challenge, but the outcome likely won’t lead to changes to the current system for U.S. users.