Ad-Blocker Blocking Websites Could be in Legal Trouble

Under European law, websites that block users from accessing their content if they are using ad-blocking software may be illegal.

This news has come to light courtesy of privacy campaigner Alexander Hanff, who claims to have received an email from the European Commission confirming that web pages that employ scripts to identify if users have ad-blocking enabled are accessing personal data, whether they have ad-blockers installed and whether they are set up to block that website. The result of this is just as EU websites are required to inform the user before storing and accessing cookies on their computer, ad-blocker detecting websites should be asking users permission before interrogating their browser for plugin details.

The EU law that requires this consent has been in force since 2011 and has been visibly employed by websites wishing to make use of cookies and as a consequence of this letter, require the same consent to run script hiding content based on detecting a plugin. One option would be to block all content until permission for the script to run is given, however, this has the potential consequence of scaring off a huge number of potential readers that wouldn’t allow websites to access such data even if they are not running ad-blocking software themselves. Meanwhile, if content is visible until consent is given, as is the case for many sites that employ cookies, the blocking is pointless.

Hanff has declared that he will be using the letter from the commission as the basis for a number of legal challenges against sites that employ anti-ad-blocking scripts. He also plans to set up a website containing a directory of all websites that use this type of code to block their content so that a list of potential culprits can be compiled. This could be bad for a number of news outlets that rely on anti-ad-blocking scripts for access to their content.


Alexander Neil

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