Does the video platform have the right to detect if you are using an ad blocker? To do this, shouldn’t she obtain your consent, which you could refuse to give? We asked experts if YouTube has the legal right to block your ad blocker.
For several days, it has been impossible to use an ad blocker on YouTube without being asked to deactivate it, unless you pay for a Premium subscription at €12.99 per month. Is this legal? This week we told you how Alexander Hanff, an expert known for defending online privacy for years, filed a complaint with the Irish CNIL for what he believes is a violation of European law. We wanted to know more.
To detect whether or not you are using an ad blocking extension, YouTube runs a script that has been installed on your browser. Does the platform have the right to install this script (and run it), without asking your opinion, and without obtaining your consent? This is the question that the Irish authority will have to decide. But according to experts that 01net.com was able to question, some answers can already be provided.
Is the Adblock detector a tracker?
In Europe, there is a right to cookies or trackers. And things are clear, explains Mathilde Croze, associate lawyer at the Lerins law firm, specializing in data law and new technologies. “ Each time data collected by tools installed on your computers is processed, consent is required. These provisions of community law (European, Editor’s note) have been included in French law, within article 82 of the Data Protection Act. “, she emphasizes.
If we schematize, from the moment a company wants to access information already stored on a user terminal (such as a computer browser or a smartphone), she must get user approval. The latter will then choose whether or not to give consent. And as is often the case in law, this rule suffers from exceptions, because in certain cases, the platform may do without the user’s consent. It all depends on the nature of the tracer in question.
There are several main categories that the law has defined, such as:
- THE technical tracers, that is to say those which will allow good access to this or that digital content, or which are linked to the use of a service, whether it is a website or a mobile application. These are, for example, trackers which allow you to know which language you are using, or session cookies which remember your identifiers. These are still the ones that allow you to remember the contents of a basket, when you are on a merchant site.
- Laudience measurement trackers will make it possible to measure the navigation of Internet users on a particular website.
- Ladvertising trackers aim to target an Internet user, allowing him to know where he went, what websites he visited, what he searched for. Depending on these elements, the platform will offer targeted advertising.
Does the YouTube detection script fall into any of these categories? The answer is positive for Alexander Hanff, the expert behind the complaint filed in Ireland, the country where YouTube’s parent company, Alphabet, has its head office. The platform knows whether the Internet user has activated an ad blocker or not. It would therefore be a tracer. But what type?
Is the ad blocker detector a tracker that allows behavioral analysis of the Internet user?
The fact of falling into this or that category of trackers is important here, because consent is generally required… except for the first category, what we call technical trackers which allow the site to function properly. We think that these trackers do not need your approval if they are essential to the service in question. Is this the case for YouTube and its detection script?
The courts or supervisory authorities will decide. They will face two options. “Sor we have a very protective vision of Internet users, and we say to ourselves: no, this ad blocker detector is not necessary and essential to YouTube, so we must obtain the consent of the Internet user », deciphers Eric Barbry, associate lawyer at the Racine law firm, specializing in new technology law. If the user refuses to give it, they could in theory continue using ad blockers. “ Either we say to ourselves that approval should only be requested when it is intrusive ”, which would not be the case here – therefore, no more consent. YouTube could in such a situation use ad blocker detectors without needing to ask your permission, as the company does today.
The idea behind these rules East that there must be consent, from the moment one is intrusive. As when we do a behavioral analysis of the individual which allows you to have a buyer or user profile. However, when YouTube implements this type of detection tools, does it carry out behavioral analysis of the Internet user? Is it particularly intrusive? If the answer is yes, consent is required. It would therefore be enough to not consent to be able to continue using your ad blocker. If the answer is no, there is debate. And once we have decided, “ the next question will be whether this advertising is necessary for the economic survival of a “free” model for users » analyzes Eric Barbry.
Because YouTube’s logic is the same as that adopted by many players like Meta with Facebook and Instagram recently. In essence, these platforms are saying: my service was free until now. But if you want to continue to benefit from this service, either you agree to pay a subscription, or you agree to be the product – therefore, that the platform uses your data, or that you agree to view advertising. “ Television and radio also allow free access to content that is paid for by advertising. And there is no ad blocker », recalls Eric Barbry.
It is this same logic which was adopted several months ago by Webedia and which the CNIL has not challenged, reports Mathilde Croze. SIf you go to the sites of this group such as Allociné.fr, the Internet user can either accept cookies, or pay a few euros. So either I agree to be the product or I pay. Meta has just done the same, by imposing the alternative of targeted advertising or subscription. The end of ad blockers would be part of this vast movement towards the generalization of paid digital services… Or at least, the end of the era of digital services offered “free”… Even if, very often, the service offer was not really free, since it consisted of using your data for advertising purposes.
Also read: Meta will ask users for consent for targeted advertising. Thank you Norway!