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YouTube facing criminal 'spying' charges for ad blocker detection

It's a one-man fight for YouTube's most unpopular policy decision ever.

Published onNovember 13, 2023

YouTube on smartphone stock photo 16
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
  • A privacy expert is filing a criminal complaint against YouTube for its ad blocker detection scripts.
  • The expert argues that these scripts enable unlawful spying on EU citizens.
  • A civil complaint has also been filed against YouTube with the Irish Data Protection Commission.

A privacy consultant is in the process of bringing criminal charges against YouTube in Europe for scripts that detect and restrict ad blockers on the platform.

According to The Register, Alexander Hanff is filing a complaint against the streaming platform under Ireland’s computer abuse law. The privacy expert says he has notified Ireland’s National Police about his intent to give a statement about the criminal complaint. The police have reportedly acknowledged his complaint and asked for additional information.

Hanff alleges that YouTube runs unlawful tracking scripts to detect ad blockers and that this practice amounts to spying on EU citizens. Hanff has also filed a civil complaint against YouTube’s browser interrogation system that detects ad blockers with the Irish Data Protection Commission. The regulatory authority has sought a response from Google and is waiting for the company to release a statement about Hanff’s claim.

“I consider YouTube’s script to be spyware — aka surveillance technology, as it is deployed without my knowledge or authorization to my device for the sole purpose of intercepting and monitoring my behavior (whether or not ads load in my browser or are blocked by an ad blocker),” he told The Register.

“I chose to go down the criminal complaint route because historically, EU regulators have been absolutely terrible at enforcing the ePrivacy Directive — and I mean really bad, I would argue even negligent,” Hanff noted in his statement.

YouTube recently made global a highly unpopular policy to block ad blockers on the platform. Users who fail to comply have also found themselves locked out of the platform unless they turn off ad blockers or subscribe to YouTube Premium.

Hanff hopes his criminal complaint sends a strong message to Google that it needs to end its surveillance practices that go against EU law. He argues that under EU law, consent is necessary for running any non-necessary interactions, including the scripts YouTube runs to detect ad blockers.

“Additionally, the Irish law I am using holds directors, managers, or other officers who willfully cause such an offense to be committed liable of the same offense and are not shielded by the legal entity they work for,” he said.

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