YouTube is blocking ad blockers to push Premium subscription
Google is reportedly blocking videos from playing if you have an ad blocker. A reddit user on YouTube's subreddit came across a pop-up while watching videos, it said that "Ad blockers are not allowed on YouTube."
The message (pictured below) says that ads allow YouTube to stay free for billions of users, and tells that you can ad-free with YouTube Premium. It also displayed two options: a button to allow YouTube ads, while the other is for YouTube Premium.
YouTube is blocking ad blockers
A comment from the user who reported the pop-up says that they were using Chrome with uBlock (likely uBlock Origin). Another user says they saw a similar warning on Firefox and uBlock Origin and theorized that it could be a slow roll out. A moderator on the subreddit commented that a member of the YouTube team at Google had confirmed to them that the pop-up was an experiment. So essentially, you will not be able to watch a YouTube video without disabling the ad blocker.
Google is infamous for its anti-ad stance. As Android Police notes, it has previously banned ad blocker apps from the Play Store. It went after a popular client called YouTube Vanced that allowed users to watch ads without a Premium subscription, and killed the app.
The elephant in the room is, of course, Manifest V3. The new API for web extensions cripples the functionality of content blockers from working efficiently, and without access to webRequest, there isn't really a proper solution for this mess.
This isn't the first time YouTube ads have been problematic with content blockers. The Mountain View company has consistently been working on combating ad blockers, and keeps changing stuff on the back end. You may run into ads on YouTube when you open your web browser, and it reloads tabs from the previous session. Raymond Hill, the developer of uBlock Origin had explained that the tab loading process could let some ad requests slip through before the extension's filters kick into effect at browser start up, this issue was addressed in a workaround in version 1.40 of the popular add-on. Here are some
YouTube ads: Yay or Nay?
But YouTube detecting an ad blocker is a different issue, a more serious one. It remains to be seen how content blockers will deal with it. YouTube ads not only pose a privacy risk, they are also annoying in many ways. Video ads are often unskippable, repetitive, irrelevant, loud, may use up chunks of your data. Many videos have multiple embedded ads, which are a complete waste of time. You could use a system-wide ad blocker like NextDNS or AdGuard to deal with the problem, but not everyone is going to resort to such measures.
It's not like Google is a startup, it doesn't need your funds to bear the server costs and survive. For reference, YouTube Premium has over 80 million users, it costs $12 per month in the U.S, and £11.99 in the UK. If the company wants to kick freeloaders from using YouTube, maybe it should go full premium like Netflix or Amazon Prime, and discontinue the free tier. But if that happened, the platform's usage and economy would take a nosedive. It won't be able to partner with advertisers, which in turn would result in a significant loss of revenue, probably more than what it makes from selling Premium subscriptions. That's the whole point behind blocking ad blockers, it's all about the money, and Google wants to get its share by displaying ads or Premium subscription.
From a user's perspective, this poses a bigger issue. It's about the freedom to use it the way you want to. Should you risk your privacy by disabling your ad blocker? No. If Chrome stands in your way, maybe it is time to step away from it. Manifest V2 isn't going away just yet, but you may as well make the move now.
If you're looking to switch from Google Chrome but still want a Chromium-based browser, I would recommend taking a look at Brave and Vivaldi. Both browsers come with built-in content blockers, and since they will continue to support Manifest V3 and V2 APIs, add-ons like uBlock Origin should work better on them than with Chrome.
Microsoft Edge will continue supporting Manifest V2 until 2024, but if privacy is a concern, I don't think you're going to be happy with Edge.
If you want to ditch the Chrome ecosystem completely, the only choice is Mozilla Firefox.
Will you use YouTube without an ad blocker?