Ad-blocker-blockers may breach ePrivacy Directive

April 25, 2016 | 11:24

Tags: #ad-blocker #privacy

Companies: #european-commission

The European Commission has stated that anti-ad-blocker technology, which prevents access to websites unless ad-blockers are disabled, could fall foul of the same law that resulted in the cookie pop-up permission dialogue - and a privacy campaigner has indicated he plans to launch a series of legal battles to see that enforced.

Many websites rely on advertising revenue to operate, but the majority of web users dislike adverts. As increasing numbers turned to ad-blocker plugins and proxies to remove the adverts, advertisers began to get increasingly desperate for clicks from those that remained: text adverts gave way to animated GIFs, which gave way to interactive Flash animations, then auto-playing videos, and then sneaky tricks like Skimlinks and other content-altering technologies. The more aggressive the advertising became the more users used ad-blocking technology, creating an arms race that is only accelerating over time.

The latest weapon on the side of the advertisers is an ad-blocker-blocker, a script which detects the presence of an ad-blocker in a visitor's browser and blocks access to the website unless it is disabled or the site added to its whitelist. While there already exist ad-blocker-blocker-blockers with varying degrees of efficacy, one privacy campaigner has received a letter from the EC which suggests that a legal recourse may be available to citizens of the European Union.

In a letter shared via Twitter by Alexander Hanff, Bodo Lehmann of the European Commission replies on behalf of President Juncker to state that 'Article 5(3) [of the ePrivacy Directive] would also apply to the storage by websites of scripts in users' terminal equipment to detect if users have installed or are using ad blockers.' In short: websites that use anti-ad-blocker scripts are, it appears, in violation of the European ePrivacy Directive.

Hanff has indicated he intends to carry out legal proceedings against companies situated in the EU using anti-ad-blocker technology, using the letter from the EC as evidence they are in breach of the ePrivacy Directive. If the courts agree, sites will have no choice but to add a permission dialogue much like the one that appears warning of the use of cookies asking users if they consent to being checked for ad-blocker technology. With nobody actually using ad-blockers ever likely to grant permission, a court ruling in favour of Hanff could well spell the end of anti-ad-blocker technology in the EU.
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