Guy Argues That Anti-Ad Blocker Systems Violate EU Privacy Laws

from the well,-that's-a-twist dept

We’ve talked about how ridiculous it is that many news sites (including Wired and Forbes — and apparently, now, the NY Times) have started using annoying anti-ad blocker software, in which it will block visitors from viewing their content if those sites detect (or think they detect) that you’re using an ad blocker. This is ridiculous on any number of levels, but most of all because it is forcing people to put their computers at risk. Plenty of people have tried explaining to publishers that this practice is a bad idea, but to no avail.

However, over in Europe, one privacy activist thinks he may have found another path. Alexander Hanff wrote to the EU Commission with his reasoning, claiming that anti-ad blockers are a form of spyware that illegally violate the EU’s ePrivacy Directive by not getting consent. As you may have noticed, not too long ago, when you started visiting EU-based websites, it would always inform you of its policy on storing cookies, and requesting that you “accept” the site’s policy. This was because of a new electronic privacy directive, that some have called the Cookie Law. However, as Hanff notes, it’s quite possible that using an ad-blocker detector script is basically doing the same sort of thing as a cookie in terms of spying on client-side information within one’s web browser, and a letter he received from the EU Commission apparently confirms his assertion.

It’s unclear from the excerpt of the letter that he’s posted if it’s quite as slamdunk a case as he’s indicated, but it certainly is an interesting read of the law. Either way, Hanff has made it clear that he’s going to use this “opinion” from the EU Commission to go after a ton of websites using anti-ad block systems:

Of course, from the sound of things, if Hanff is correct in his analysis, this could make things trickier for EU sites that want to use anti-ad-block software, as they’d have to first get users’ consent, and give them some level of control (possibly allowing them to just bypass the ad blocker check entirely). There are all sorts of reasons why the war on ad blocking is a bad idea, but here’s one more possibility, especially for EU sites.

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Comments on “Guy Argues That Anti-Ad Blocker Systems Violate EU Privacy Laws”

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23 Comments
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And the EU ends up in a corner, where they lead themselves.
On the one hand they have publishers bitching about blocked ads and scraping on the other hand they have those same publishers violating the law.

Perhaps the easiest solution is for them to consider perhaps it is the shitty ads they serve up that are the real problem. That consumers don’t really owe them anything, and serving up hostile ads and hostile ad blocking is the reason they are in trouble. This isn’t something consumers should have to fix, the industry needs to fix itself rather than just invent new ways to be shitty.

Anonymous Coward says:

When you click "OK" or "got it" on the cookie informant it downloads and installs a Trojan. ;) God help you if you click on an ad, ransomware at the very least. 99% of my email goes right into the trash unopened. Casual surfing? No Java, no flash, no java

When you click “OK” or “got it” on the cookie informant it downloads and installs a Trojan. 😉 God help you if you click on an ad, ransomware at the very least. 99% of my email goes right into the trash unopened. Casual surfing? No Java, no flash, no java script, no cookies, no shoes, no shirt, no service, no shit. Always use a VPN, or a trusted proxy at the least. Now that more people are using their cell phones as computers things can and will only get worse. Advertising pays for the Internet? Last time I check my ISP sent out another monthly bill, and the price and allotment of bandwidth are going in the wrong directions. And up yours EU with that right to be forgotten bullshit. I hear the Germans have forgotten Hitler, and the Italians Mussolini, how convenient. Maybe I can forget Truman dropped the A Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Anonymous Coward says:

When you click “OK” or “got it” on the cookie informant it downloads and installs a Trojan. 😉 God help you if you click on an ad, ransomware at the very least. 99% of my email goes right into the trash unopened. Casual surfing? No Java, no flash, no java script, no cookies, no shoes, no shirt, no service, no shit. Always use a VPN, or a trusted proxy at the least. Now that more people are using their cell phones as computers things can and will only get worse. Advertising pays for the Internet? Last time I check my ISP sent out another monthly bill, and the price and allotment of bandwidth are going in the wrong directions. And up yours EU with that right to be forgotten bullshit. I hear the Germans have forgotten Hitler, and the Italians Mussolini, how convenient. Maybe I can forget Truman dropped the A Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Ben S (profile) says:

Re: Browser detection?

Well, doing this w/o informing your customer of the fact that you’re accessing data on their computer to do this, and getting consent, would be.

“Under Article 5.3 of the ePrivacy Directive storing information or gaining of access to information already stored in the terminal equipment of a subscriber or user is allowed on condition that the subscriber or user concerned has given his or her consent…”

Avantare (profile) says:

Block this!

I’ll CONSIDER not using it when they start paying for a portion of MY bandwidth that I PAY FOR.
Until then… STUFF IT. And even then I’ve come to really enjoy not seeing any ads at all.

You are the reason I quit watching TV And cable after the stations started showing commercials. I don’t even have a TV anymore.

I have 10 radio stations programmed in my car so I can change channels on a whim as well as a multi-disk CD player that plays MP3’s.

So screw you and your ads and commercials.

Avantare

JBDragon (profile) says:

If you go to a site and they block you for using a Ad-Blocker, I say they have every right to block you! Just like you have every right to block the ad’s.

When I run into that, I say, fine, Bye, bye!!! Then go someplace else. There’s lots of other sites on the web to go to that don’t block you.

Fair is Fair and it should work both ways. I cut the cord, I get most of my TV over the air with a Antenna, FREE. I still skip all the commercials using my TIVO. I block ad’s on my PC, etc using Ghostery. I’m tried of all the ad’s. Ad’s that can eat up to around 70% of your bandwidth!!! You go to a site for a article and your Web browser is grabbing Garbage from 20-30 other places at the same time. It’s really just ridiculous.

They brought it upon themselves. It was one thing if it was some simple banner on the top of the page. Now it’s Video and audio going off, and animated crap all over. Hell trying to find the next page of a article in all the mess can be a hassle. I block most all. With Ghostery, I will allow a few things for sites. A couple I’ll whitelist if they play nice. If you’re web site is grabbing stuff form 10-20+ places, it’s all blocked.

Monday (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I believe the argument is about Ad-Blocker-Blockers’ creating an Invasion of Privacy issue here. They are installing, more often than not, malicious spyware into the Browsers of Website Patrons.

The argument then proceeds to Accountability. Can these Vendors be held legally accountable for creating vulnerabilities in a Visitor’s computer / cell? Did this (quite literally) “Backdoor” result in damage or exploitation?

Accountabilty; website vendors have to, nay, need to be held accountable for their actions. It is not a visitor or patron’s responsibility or fault that a company’s business plan, wherein the advertising is a dismal failure, becomes that particular consumer’s fault because of a gross failure.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m right there with you Avantare. Equally as much as poor programming giving forth shows not worth wasting time watching, is the cram of ads, which I hate with a passion. I too, no longer own a tv and am not in the market for one.

The radio station I have programmed in does nearly no commercials which is why I’ve chosen it and like it. No stupid song repeats hour after hour, no commercial breaks.

As I’ve mentioned before, all these places demanding I open up to their spyware in order to see some minor content I am not likely to be back to the same source again for, doesn’t bother me. I comply with their wishes and promply close the site. Their content is not that valuable as is my time spent trying to remove malware from my network. Since the advertisers aren’t considering what I want, I don’t consider what they want of any importance.

They’ve made their bed and are now unhappy with the results.

dakre (profile) says:

Ad blocking is unstoppable

I love when these articles come up, since I use Ad Block Plus to keep myself safe from malicious ads. In some cases, you will come across a website that can detect the ad blocker, but only because of certain checks it makes. Surprise! You can check how they do it by looking at the site’s source code, and that makes many sites easy to unblock.

For example, without naming sites, I’ve seen one check if an ad element (or box) has a height and width greater than 0, and blocks you if the box is set to 0. I just add a line to the ABP filter and I have access again!

At some point, enough businesses, websites, and individuals will be taken seriously, and ad companies will have to change their ways. Preferably to ads that don’t drive you nuts or harm your computer…and maybe TV ads won’t take up 20 minutes of your 60 minute show…#CordCuttingIsReal

Anonymous Coward says:

Interpretation

When you read the article 5(3)the first part does seem like an easy win but the 2nd part could allow anti ad blocking.

“This shall not prevent any technical storage or access for the sole purpose of carrying out or facilitating the transmission of a communication over an electronic communications network, or as strictly necessary in order to provide an information society service explicitly requested by the subscriber or user.”

The user requests a website and for this website to determine if the user is allowed to see its content it has to run an ad blocker check. So the check is necessary for the website to provide the information requested by the user. Therefor anti ad blockers could be allowed under EU law.

I’m sure someone fluent in legalese could explain it better and also turn it around but at first look the newspapers seem to have a chance.

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