YouTube under spying charges over ad blocker ban, EU criminal charges
November 14, 2023

YouTube under spying charges over ad blocker ban, EU criminal charges

Google could once again find itself in trouble with regulators in the EU, as its YouTube platform is currently under accusations of spying. This is happening in light of the recent, global enforcement of the ban on ad blockers on this service, which is why internet privacy consultant Aleksandar Hanf has decided to file criminal charges against the platform.

Hanf is filing criminal charges under Ireland's Computer Misuse Act. He claims that he informed the National Police of Ireland about this, and the police accepted the request and asked for more information about the case.

YouTube is responsible for putting in place illegal tracking procedures that help it detect ad blockers in the first place, and this practice means the service is actually spying on users, Hanf claims. In addition to YouTube being accused of spying through a criminal complaint, The Register reports that Hanf has also filed a civil lawsuit against the platform.

Due to YouTube's system that detects ad blockers on internet browsers, it is under investigation by the Irish Data Protection Commission. The authorities of the European Union are reportedly already demanding a response from Google to this lawsuit.

I believe that the YouTube system is actually spyware – also known as surveillance technology, because it is deployed without my knowledge or authorization on my device for the sole purpose of intercepting and monitoring my behavior. Regardless of whether the ads are loading in my browser or being removed by the blocker“, says Hanf.

He also explains that he decided on the path of criminal charges and lawsuits because, as he claims, EU regulators have proven to be terribly bad at implementing the e-Privacy Directive, so much so that they can be characterized as negligent.

Hanf hopes his action will send a message to YouTube and force its parent company Google to stop its surveillance practices that are not in line with European Union laws. He talks about consent being important to conduct any unnecessary interactions, and the platform did not ask for people's consent to do so.

In addition, the Irish law to which he refers practically states that directors, managers or other officers who commit such violations within a company are also liable for the same offense and are not protected under the umbrella of the legal entity in which they work.

If the applications receive more attention from the Irish authorities as well as EU regulators, we potentially get another legal saga between multinational companies and citizens whose rights they violate. However, given that such bureaucratic processes can take a very long time, this is probably just the beginning of a long battle to be fought to protect people's privacy on the Internet.

YouTube announced earlier this month that it is launching a “worldwide effort” to stop ad blockers on the platform, which means either allow ads in almost every video or pay a monthly fee for a Premium account that doesn't show ads in videos. Otherwise, the platform will stop the operation of the video player, as in this year's experiments, and it could allegedly delete the accounts of some because “they do not comply with its terms of use”.