Data Privacy: YouTube Illegally Prevents Ad Blocking

Somewhat controversial measures to curb the use of ad blocking tools, which YouTube recently introduced, may be - illegal

by Sededin Dedovic
Data Privacy: YouTube Illegally Prevents Ad Blocking
© Chris McGrath / Getty Images

Data privacy activist Alexander Hanf has recently taken action against YouTube and its parent company, Google, by reporting them to the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC). Hanf's complaint revolves around YouTube's alleged illegal use of JavaScript programming code, which identifies visitors using ad-blocking add-ons.

In response to the proliferation of ad-blockers, YouTube has initiated the display of pop-up warnings, urging users to view content without ad-blockers. This practice, while not inherently unlawful, has raised concerns about its marketing and implementation.

To circumvent ad-blockers, YouTube periodically alters its scripts designed to detect problematic plug-ins in users' browsers. This strategic move aims to outsmart ad-blockers and ensure the pop-up warnings continue to appear.

Hanf contends that such data collection from browsers runs afoul of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and should require explicit user consent, similar to the handling of internet cookies. Users should be informed about the data gathered by these scripts and asked for their agreement before activation.

The case underscores the ongoing tension between data privacy concerns and the practices of online platforms

Hanf's stance finds support from a previous interaction with the European Commission in 2016. He sought clarification on the existing regulations and whether website owners needed user consent to collect data related to browser settings, such as ad-blocker detection.

The European Commission affirmed Hanf's position, stating that such activities should indeed require user consent. Armed with this backing from the European Commission, Hanf included this argument in his complaint to the DPC, which had also recently engaged YouTube's owner regarding the same issue.

The case underscores the ongoing tension between data privacy concerns and the practices of online platforms, as data privacy activists seek to ensure that user consent remains a central element of data collection and utilization in the digital landscape.

In his interestingly formatted explanation for The Register portal, Hanf also points out what he expects as the results of his application: "I expect the DPC to investigate and serve YouTube with an enforcement notice requiring them to cease and desist from these activities without first obtaining consent to implement spyware detection scripts; and further to order YouTube to unsuspend all accounts that were suspended as a result of these revelations and to delete all personal data that has been unlawfully processed since they first started deploying spyware detection scripts ".