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Privacy advocate Alexander Hanff believes scripts which detect whether or not a user has adblocking software installed violate EU privacy law. An amendment to the ePrivacy Directive that went into force a few years ago is the reason many sites now inform users if the site uses cookies, as well as asking users for consent to have their data stored by cookies. However Hanff believes that the law doesn’t just apply to cookies, but that scripts which detect adblockers would also require notification and consent under the law.

Hanff made an inquiry to the European Commission on this matter, and the letter he got in response supports his claim. He posted photos of “relevant pages” on Twitter, implying there is more to the letter than what he’s shared so far. However, what he has posted does seem to support his case.

The letter states that the wording in the law does not only cover cookies. The relevant points are that the law is applicable when a site accesses information stored on a user’s computer, with narrow exceptions for accessing information that is required to facilitate communication. According to the letter, the law is applicable to a wide variety of technologies besides cookies, and the Commission believes it would also apply to client-side scripts that detect adblockers. The letter states, “Thus, a literal interpretation of Article 5.3 supports its application to all types of information stored or accessed in the user’s terminal device.”  The use of the term “literal interpretation” may imply that it is an interpretation that was unintended by the writers of the law, but one which is supported by the exact wording used in the law.

An additional point of interest in the letter concerns the application of Recital 66 of the law. Recital 66 states that users can express preferences about whether they consent to storage and access of information on their devices through browser settings or other software. The letter states the browser extensions or plugins would also be an acceptable way to communicate such preferences. Although that section of the letter does not refer to adblocking plugins specifically, but merely states that browser plugins could be used to communicate whether a user consents or not. Presumably, a plugin which detects adblocker detectors and disables them would be a clear indication that a user does not consent to the collection of that data.

After receiving his letter from the Commission, Hanff stated that he intends to launch legal complaints against sites that detect adblockers in the EU.

Does detecting adblockers without consent violate a user’s privacy? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.

  • Cy

    Can we get something like this in the US? I’m so sick of porn sites not letting me skip through videos because I’m blocking their shitty popups.

  • ActionBastard

    If the ads arn’t intrusive and the content provider does right by the consumer i put them on the exempt list. I don’t see it as intrusion unless some punishment is devised for people who do use it then yea. Most people don’t realize how much “private” info they hand over digitally every day.

  • Robert “Robovski” Turner

    Advertisers brought the rise of blockers on themselves. Of course, they will just make it such that you consent to the adblock detection by using the site just like they get you consent to cookies.

  • webkilla

    Interesting – I personally hate it when sites go “you must disable your adblocker to view our content” – they should not get ANY say in this.

    What’ll they do next? Say you can’t view their content unless you use their proprietary web-browser?

    They put a website out on the internet. Fine. They do not get to pick and choose what browser-addons and shit you’re using.

  • Galbador

    And once again, justice wins. Gratz to Hanff for this. Like I always said “If someone blocks me because of adblock, Igo somewhere else. The internet is big enough and if people mock around like that, they are the only losers.”

    If a website blocks me and even bricks my entire (!) pc with ads, I will use ever possible way to disable this crap, or do you accept an ad, which is as big as the whole damn screen?

  • Reptile

    I find the attempts to block adblock futile, with simple HTML skills you can inspect the element, select the s that are containing the popup and its background and set display:none; on them.

  • Kev Lew

    taking any info from a persons device without permission is already pretty shady, glad to see someone is trying to keep the invasions under control. The more our daily interactions are stored on personal devices the more cautions should be there to protect us from unwanted, unwelcome, unneeded intrusion.

  • I’ve had my share of online ads in the 90’s that filled my lifetime quota of viewed ads. You know, all those huge (remember, we had squeaky 56k modems for the most part, those on dual ISDN were the royalty), flashing annoying ads without any context what so ever? Sooo, I don’t feel sorry for blocking them all. At all.

  • I don’t want to see ads. They have very little value as I have never brought anything from ads I’ve seen on the internet.

  • If the EU cared about protecting users they’d make autoplaying video punishable by hard labor. 😛

  • frankelee

    Of course it’s a violation. Many of these websites practices should be considered crimes, pop up ads, auto-ads with audio, obscene ads, they should all be criminal acts punishable by law.

  • Andy

    Why not use Ublock and tempermonky with a Adblocker blocker blocker script.

  • Zepherdog

    You might as well stop using such sites and leave them bankrupt then. What’s next, putting advertising in your homes? Wait, that already happens on TV and useless pamplets.

  • Zepherdog

    Adblocker blocker blocker. Wow

  • Strazdas

    you have to do this manually every time you visit the site though.