YouTube’s ban of ad blockers might be illegal in Europe

Google started a limited YouTube experiment this summer to test tech that would help it ban ad blockers. A few days ago, YouTube confirmed the ad blocker ban. The experiment apparently proved fruitful, as Google is expanding its blocking of ad blockers worldwide.

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The company wants users to either stop blocking ads on YouTube or subscribe to YouTube Premium. Annoyingly, Google raised YouTube Premium prices just as it started deploying its ad blocker ban.

Google will not relent anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean ad blockers stopped working. A cat-and-mouse game is happening before our eyes, with consumers looking at alternatives that can help them block YouTube ads.

Meanwhile, some YouTube users in Europe with knowledge of the region’s strong privacy laws are going after Google. It turns out that it might be illegal under EU laws for YouTube to detect the use of ad blockers.

We’re in the early days of this fight so don’t get your hopes up. Even if Google is forced to stop blocking ad blockers in Europe, YouTube’s ban would remain in place in all other markets.

As The Verge explains, privacy 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 user privacy laws in Europe.

“AdBlock detection scripts are spyware — there is no other way to describe them and as such it is not acceptable to deploy them without consent,” Hanff told The Verge. “I consider any deployment of technology which can be used to spy on my devices is both unethical and illegal in most situations.”

This isn’t Hanff’s first fight concerning ad blocker detectors. In 2016, the European Commission (EC) found that scripts used to detect ad blockers fall under Article 5.3 of the ePrivacy Directive. That legislation forces websites to ask for user consent before storing or accessing information from a user’s device, like cookies.

However, the same body seemingly reversed its stance in 2017. The EC said that website providers should be able to check whether a person uses an ad blocker to block ads without their approval.

Hanff also isn’t the only privacy activist who is taking action against YouTube’s ad blocker ban. German digital rights advocate Patrick Breyer also asked the EC to investigate Google’s behavior.

The Irish DPC has already engaged with Hanff following his complaint. It’s unclear what the privacy watchdog will do in Europe. Meanwhile, YouTube will continue trying to ban ad block use around the world. YouTube spokesperson Christopher Lawton told The Verge that Google will cooperate fully with any queries from the DPC.

It’s unclear how long the EU will take to decide whether YouTube’s ad blocker detection systems violate EU privacy laws. But, again, any verdict in this case will only impact Google’s YouTube operations in Europe. If Google is forced to allow ad blockers in Europe, it won’t extend the courtesy to other regions.


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