YouTube’s Crackdown Spurs Record Uninstalls of Ad Blockers

The ad sleuths who figure out ways to detect ads and engineers skilled at blocking them are working hard to figure out how to evade YouTube’s blocker blockade, in private Slack groups and discussion on GitHub projects. But progress has been hampered because YouTube isn’t ensnaring every user in its dragnet. Relatively few of the developers have been able to trigger the warning themselves—perhaps the world’s only ad block users who cheer when YouTube finally catches them.

Google has had a complicated relationship with the ad blocking industry. The Google Play mobile app store, unlike Apple’s App Store, has banned ad blockers for about a decade. But Chrome, which Google says serves a mission to support an open internet where users can be secure and private, has given them fairly wide latitude to operate. Besides ad filtering, many ad blocking tools carry features that prevent users from being tracked across the web. Ad blocker developers say annoyance with YouTube has long been a top driver of downloads of their tools.

After encountering YouTube’s demands to shut off the blockers, users turned every which way last month. Discussions online show some recommending services such as Newpipe.net, an open source YouTube look-alike that uses workarounds to run videos from the service without ads. Newpipe doesn’t collect usage data, it says on its website.

Some ad blockers are already adapting. Hankuper, the Slovakian company behind lesser known blocker AdLock, released a new version for Windows this week that it believes goes unnoticed by YouTube. If users find that to be true, it will push the fix to versions for macOS, Android, and iOS, says Kostiantyn Shebanov, Hankuper’s product head and business development manager.

Ghostery’s Modras worries about the consequences of Google escalating the war on blockers. Users losing anti-tracking features as they disable the tools could fall prey to online hazards, and the more complex blocking tactics companies like his are being forced to introduce could lead to unintended security holes. “The more powerful they have to become to deal with challenges, the more risk is involved,” he says.

There could also be legal repercussions. Modras says that when a publisher takes steps to thwart an adblocker, it’s illegal for developers to try to circumvent those measures in Europe. But he believes it is permissible to block ads if a blocker does so before triggering a warning.

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