Thousands Uninstall Ad Blockers After YouTube Blocks Access to Videos

YouTube asked people to either ditch ad blockers or buy a premium subscription, which costs $14 per month.
Thousands Uninstall Ad Blockers After YouTube Blocks Access to Videos
A woman with a smartphone walks past a billboard advertisement for YouTube in Berlin on Sept. 27, 2019. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

Thousands of people globally uninstalled their ad blockers after YouTube began a crackdown on such tools and prevented them from accessing videos on the streaming platform.

In May, YouTube began asking users to disable ad blocking tools in order to view videos on the platform. Last month, it expanded the crackdown on ad blockers. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of internet users uninstalling ad blockers in October, which is a record number, according to a Nov. 3 report by Wired.

In addition to uninstallations, the number of installations has hit a record as people install multiple ad blockers in an attempt to find software that bypasses YouTube’s detection.

Ghostery, an ad blocker service from Germany, saw three to five times the usual number of daily installations and uninstallations through much of October, Krzysztof Modras, director of product and engineering at the company, told Wired. A Ghostery survey of users shows that 90 percent uninstalled the tool because it didn’t work on YouTube.

Ad blocking service AdGuard, which usually sees roughly 6,000 uninstallations per day on Chrome, saw the number spike to 52,000 on Oct. 18, an executive told the outlet.

Between Oct. 9 and the end of the month, uninstallation numbers exceeded 11,000 per day. Installations also jumped, hitting about 60,000 on Oct. 18 and Oct. 27.

AdLock, another ad blocker, saw daily installations/uninstallations rise by about 30 percent in October.

Ads ‘Support’ Content Creators

YouTube has said that ad blockers are harmful to the company.

“Ads on YouTube help support the creators you love and let billions of people around the world use the streaming service. When you block YouTube ads, you violate YouTube’s Terms of Service,” the streaming platform stated.

“If you use ad blockers, we’ll ask you to allow ads on YouTube or sign up for YouTube Premium. If you continue to use ad blockers, we may block your video playback. To avoid the interruption, allow ads on YouTube or sign up for YouTube Premium.”

After YouTube started doing more to prevent the use of ad blockers earlier this year, it initially sent pop-ups to users, warning them that using ad blockers is against the terms of use. It then placed a timer on the notifications to make sure that people read them.

By June, YouTube became more aggressive, warning people using ad blockers that they wouldn’t be able to play more than three videos unless they disabled these tools.

In a statement to Engadget, a YouTube spokesperson confirmed that the company has started a “global effort” against the use of ad blockers.

YouTube Premium costs $14 per month in the United States and allows people to watch YouTube videos without ads.

YouTube used to offer a cheaper “Premium Lite” option in some parts of Europe that cost roughly $7.50 a month. However, YouTube never rolled it out globally and recently removed it entirely.

Privacy Violation

YouTube’s Terms of Service don’t explicitly state that using ad blockers is prohibited. Instead, they state that users shouldn’t “circumvent, disable, fraudulently engage with, or otherwise interfere with any part of the Service (or attempt to do any of these things).” This is because explicitly prohibiting ad blockers in its Terms of Service could become a legal issue.

Last month, privacy advocate Alexander Hanff filed a complaint with Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) against YouTube for deploying code to detect ad blockers by users.

In an interview with the tech news publication The Register, Mr. Hanff said YouTube violated the European Union’s ePrivacy Directive by deploying the code, as it didn’t seek consent from the user before doing so.

In 2016, Mr. Hanff wrote to the European Commission, seeking a formal clarification as to whether websites would need to first receive user consent “for all access to or storage of information on an end user’s device which was not strictly necessary.”

“Specifically whether the deployment of scripts or other technologies to detect an ad blocker would require consent (as it is not strictly necessary for the provision of the requested service and is purely for the interests of the publisher),” he told The Register. “The European Commission sent me a formal written response agreeing with my position that such activities would require consent.”

Now that YouTube has implemented its ad block detection code, Mr. Hanff approached Ireland’s DPC to take action against the platform.

“[The agency] did not disagree with my analysis and agreed to reach out to YouTube,” he said.

YouTube has previously faced scrutiny over its ad practices. In August, a bipartisan group of senators wrote a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), asking for an investigation into YouTube’s alleged collection and use of children’s data via ads.

YouTube could have violated its 2019 “consent decree” with the FTC by showing targeted ads on videos aimed at children, the letter states.

Minor-directed videos on YouTube “are flooded with advertisements that, when clicked, collect data that is immediately shared with an unknown number of data brokers and companies, all without parental consent,” the senators wrote.

Related Topics