Google Threatens to Kill Open Source YouTube Front-End Invidious for Letting You Watch Videos without Tracking or Ads

Invidious is well known as a privacy-first platform to watch YouTube videos without ads or tracking. Now Google wants it to shut down.

Google wants to kill YouTube alternative Invidious with which you can watch video without any tracking or ads.
Google has sent a letter to Invidious, the open source and privacy-respecting alternative front-end for YouTube, threatening the platform legal consequences if they did not stop showing YouTube videos without also displaying Google's ads. But Invidious does not plan on bending the knee to Google.

Invidious is a great open source tool as it lets you browse YouTube without being tracked. Now, Google wants to stop this practice as it harms their business model: Google - and other adtech companies like Facebook - need to track you (best across services) to compile a profile about you, your preferences and your willingness to pay. The gathered data is abused to display targeted ads, for instance on YouTube, so that Google can maximize its profits.

By enabling people to watch YouTube videos without being tracked and without being shown ads, Invidious harms Google's business model. This is a big thorn in Google's side because YouTube generates more than 10% of Google's revenue.

If you do not want to pay Google with your attention, you can still browse YouTube via Invidious. But the question is: how much longer?

What happened

YouTube has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Invidious, a platform that lets you watch YouTube video in a privacy-friendly way. On its website Invidious says it is an open-source "alternative front-end" to YouTUbe which allows users to watch videos without having their data tracked. "Invidious protects you from the prying eyes of Google. It won’t track you either!"

YouTube contacted Invidious two weeks ago, the letter was posted on their GitHub platform.

In the letter, Google claims that Invidious is violating YouTube’s API policy and demands that the service is shut down within seven days. The reason given by the lawyers is that Invidious is not complying with the agreements on the use of YouTube's programming interface. These prohibit, for example, the suppression of advertising or the downloading of videos.

"We recently became aware of your product or service, Invidious. Your Client appears to be in violation of the YouTube API Services Terms of Service and Developer Policies. ... [API clients] must not place any limitations on the YouTube functionality required by the RMF [Requirements for Minimum Functionality for YouTube API Services], ... mimic or replicate core user experiences ... unless they add significant independent value or functionality that improves users’ interactions with YouTube. ... We hope that you will cooperate with us by correcting and ceasing to offer Your Client that violates our terms and policies within 7 days from the date of this letter."

One developer behind Invidious explains in an open letter that Google is wrong and that they will not comply with the request to shut down Invidious. The argumentation: Google appears unaware that Invidious is not using YouTube's official APIs for providing its service. Since Invidious does not use a programming interface from YouTube, it is not bound by the conditions that Google states in their cease-and-desist letter.

TheFrenchGhosty writes on his website:

I'm Not Invidious

On June 8, 2023 Invidious received an e-mail from Google/YouTube to ask the project to be stopped.

Even though this e-mail is invalid from the start (since Invidious doesn’t use any part of the YouTube API and doesn’t do anything illegal), some people people asked me why I’m not stopping my work on Invidious, so here’s the explanation:

The e-mail is addressed “To Whom It May Concern”, the reality is that it doesn’t “concern” me.

The e-mail continues with “We recently became aware of your product or service, Invidious (“Your Client”), which is being offered at” here lies the important part:

Invidious isn’t my “product or service”, it isn’t “my Client”. I don’t own any part of it and it isn’t trademarked by me. Moreover it isn’t “offered at” (though, it is unrelated to the premise of this post).

Invidious also isn’t “me” or “mine”, therefore, I wasn’t asked anything.

This is the important part, which make this whole e-mail unapplicable by me by design.

Invidious isn’t my project, I don’t own Invidious or the “Invidious” trademark, I’m not Invidious, I don’t represent Invidious. I’m just… me.

Invidious is.

Thanks to FOSS anyone can contribute to Invidious, I just contribute (sometimes) to it, but it’s in no way, my project, even if I or any other contributor stop working on Invidious, the project will still be.

Any use I ever did of “we” or “us” is just a summarization to avoid saying the name of all the other contributors (because of pure laziness).

If Google/YouTube want me to stop, they just have to ask me to stop (not that they have any ground to ask me to, I never did anything illegal, and I don’t agree to the YouTube term of services / developer policies anyway).

If they still ask me for whatever reason to stop working on Invidious, I’ll stop.

What happens now?

Although the deadline stated by Google expired last Thursday, the maintainers of the open source code of Invidious have no intention to comply with YouTube's demands. On the contrary, they have created backup copies of the code in case the developer platform GitHub, which is owned by Microsoft, blocks the project's accounts, and they are trying to organize a legal defense within the European Union.

Invidious explained on GitHub that they plan to continue, and not comply with any requests made by Google:

"Things will continue normally until they can't anymore. Assume it's just the start. Assume they'll ask GitHub to takedown the repos (if so go to our Gitea). Assume the team wont be able to work on Invidious. You know what you have to do. May Invidious live and prosper, with, or without us."

Why people love Invidious

On YouTube, Google inserts numerous advertising interruptions into the videos and creates profiles of users to display even more and better matching ads. The Invidious project allows people to blind Google, so to say: When using Invidious they can stay anonymous, without being tracked, and without being shown annoying ads by Google. To do this, users have to access one of the numerous websites that have installed Invidious.

That's why people love Invidious, particularly in the free and open source (FOSS) community.

That's also why, for instance, we at Tutanota always share Invidious links on Mastodon - our favorite social media alternative to Big Tech, for instance here.

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