YouTube’s Ad-Blocker Crackdown Might Violate Privacy Laws





YouTube’s “global efforts” to banish ad-blockers may hit a snag in the European Union.

Last month, privacy expert Alexander Hanff, reportedly filed a complaint with the Irish Data Protection Commission arguing that YouTube’s ad-blocker detection system is a privacy violation — illegal under the EU’s ePrivacy Directive. Hanff is accusing the Google-owned video sharing app of using JavaScript code to detect ad-blocking extensions without user consent.

“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, who spotted the news earlier.

YouTube has been doubling down to stop its viewers from using ad-blockers to protect the service’s ad-generated revenue and drive users to its paid ad-free subscription plan. So far, despite user dissatisfaction, YouTube’s campaign seems to be working — the YouTube Premium cracked Parks Associates’ top 10 U.S. subscription video streaming services list, and reports indicate that ad-blockers are being uninstalled in droves. In addition, Google posted third-quarter ad-revenue from YouTube of $7.95 billion, compared with $7.07 billion a year earlier. 

Google defended the practice.

“We’ve launched a global effort to urge viewers with ad blockers enabled to allow ads on YouTube or try YouTube Premium for an ad free experience,” said a YouTube spokesperson. Ads support a diverse ecosystem of creators globally and allow billions to access their favorite content on YouTube. We will of course cooperate fully with any questions or queries from the DPC.”

Depending on what happens next with the privacy advocates’ complaints, YouTube might have to adjust its tactics or potentially face a legal battle.

YouTube’s war against ad-blockers has evolved from its 30-second unskippable ad test in May. In July, with an active ad-blocker, viewers could watch three videos on YouTube’s free tier. After that, the platform would block its content. By September, the video app ramped up its anti-ad-blocker efforts. Viewers with an active ad-blocker said some videos were blacked out completely.

Now, when a user has an ad-blocker installed and tries to watch a video on YouTube, they’re met with a pop-up message. The notice says ad-blockers violate YouTube’s terms of service and give the viewer the option to allow ads or subscribe to YouTube Premium.

YouTube Premium offers users an ad-free experience for $13.99 a month, as well as family and student plans. With a subscription, customers can also download videos for offline viewing and access YouTube Music Premium. 

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