You may have seen it pop up on your screen as you were about to watch a video: “Ad blockers are not allowed on YouTube.” From now on, the only way to get rid of advertisements on the platform is to subscribe to the premium version, for 12.99 euros per month. This mishap notably happened to the wife of a certain Alexander Hanff. If this name doesn't mean anything to you, this Irishman is one of the world's leading experts in online data protection and privacy. He notably advised the European Commission on these subjects and participated in the development of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2016.
“My wife, who works at my company - came to me saying that she could no longer watch videos on her computer. This is a real problem because YouTube is a source of information for everyone,” the specialist tells Le Figaro. According to him, by acting in this way, the platform goes against article 5 of the European directive on the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector of 2002. This indeed stipulates that No personal data collected without the user's consent can be used for anything. However, in order to detect blocking attempts by blockers, YouTube executes an intrusive “script” for the Internet user and their device.
Also read: South Korea: Google ordered to communicate about the personal data it transmits
On October 19, Alexander Hanff therefore filed a complaint against YouTube with the Data Protection Commission in Ireland, the local equivalent of our CNIL. The country is home to the headquarters of Google - which bought YouTube in 2006 - in Europe. The stakes are high: if the body ever approves the irregularity, it could be observed throughout Europe and the American giant would then be forced to re-authorize ad blockers on YouTube.
“I had a call with a Commission investigator last week. He told me that they did not disagree with my analysis,” rejoices Alexander Hanff. The Commission contacted YouTube, which must now respond to the accusation. The activist is not alone in his fight. “The person I spoke to on the phone told me that they are overwhelmed with identical complaints,” says the expert. If Google were convicted, the web giant could however appeal. Alexander Hanff is confident: in 2016, the European Commission already agreed with him by indicating that the detection of ad blockers required the user's consent.
From Sweden where he lives and works, Alexander Hanff prefers to have fun with the situation. “I’m used to seeing Alphabet [Editor’s note: the parent company of YouTube] breaking the law, it’s a bit of a habit for them.” The expert, however, admits to being surprised by the aggressiveness of the measure: “Google made a huge mistake. This goes against what the community wants, and there are other ways to monetize YouTube,” he assures. Among the ideas proposed by the specialist: abandon so-called “behavioral” advertising for “contextual” or branded advertising. These more respectful practices would not require the processing of personal data or the tracking of Internet users.