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EU Consumer Groups Slam Meta's 'Pay-or-Profile' Approach

Introducing ad-free subscriptions but with a catch of compulsory tracking and profiling
March 1, 2024

In a contentious move last year, Meta stirred up controversy by introducing a subscription model in the European Union that offers ad-free access to Facebook and Instagram, but at the cost of user privacy. This decision has ignited a wave of backlash from consumer rights advocates, prompting a series of complaints under the EU's data protection regulations.

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, rolled out a subscription plan that allows EU users to opt-out of seeing ads on Facebook and Instagram by paying €9.99 per month on web or €12.99 per month on mobile. However, the alternative for users unwilling to pay is to consent to being tracked and profiled, essentially forcing them to choose between paying for privacy or sacrificing it for free access.

Today, the European consumer organization, BEUC, along with eight consumer rights groups spanning across the EU, announced their intention to file complaints with national data protection authorities against Meta's controversial "consent or pay" model. They argue that Meta's approach fails to meet the legal standards of valid consent under GDPR, as it does not provide users with a genuine choice and transparency regarding data processing.

BEUC's deputy director general, Ursula Pachl, condemned Meta's tactics, labeling them as an attempt to legalize intrusive data practices under the guise of consumer choice. The coalition of consumer groups asserts that Meta's processing of personal data for ad-targeting violates multiple GDPR principles, including purpose limitation, data minimization, fair processing, and transparency.

The legal analysis conducted by BEUC, its members, and the data rights law firm AWO found several flaws in Meta's data processing practices, raising questions about the company's reliance on consent and the validity of its legal basis for ad targeting and content personalization.

Moreover, Meta's consent strategy faces scrutiny under the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), which mandate obtaining explicit consent for ad targeting and prohibit the use of sensitive personal data without clear consent. The European Commission, empowered to enforce these regulations, could impose significant penalties on Meta for non-compliance.

As consumer protection and privacy rights groups intensify their efforts to challenge Meta's data practices, the company finds itself at a crossroads. With the threat of regulatory intervention looming large, Meta's 'consent or pay' model may face not only legal hurdles but also a growing public outcry against its intrusive advertising practices.

In a landscape where privacy concerns reign supreme, Meta's approach underscores the delicate balance between monetization and user rights, shaping the future trajectory of data protection and digital advertising in the EU.

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