NOYB challenges Meta’s paid subscription service, alleges ‘privacy fee’ violation

In a significant legal challenge, digital rights group NOYB (None Of Your Business) has filed a complaint against Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, with the Austrian Data Protection Authority. The complaint alleges that Meta’s newly launched paid subscription service, offering an ad-free experience for a monthly fee, violates EU data protection laws.

Meta introduced the ad-free subscription service in Europe earlier this month, providing users with an option to pay 9.99 euros monthly (for web users) or 12.99 euros (for iOS and Android users) to eliminate ads from their Facebook and Instagram experience. The company justified the move as compliance with EU regulations that mandate users be given a choice regarding the collection and use of their data for targeted ads.

Vienna-based NOYB, founded by privacy activist Max Schrems, disagrees with Meta’s interpretation of consent. The group contends that EU law requires consent to be the genuine free will of the user. NOYB accuses Meta of charging a ‘privacy fee’ of up to 250 euros per year, asserting that it penalizes users for exercising their fundamental right to data protection.

NOYB’s data protection lawyer, Felix Mikolasch, emphasized, “Not only is the cost unacceptable, but industry numbers suggest that only 3 percent of people want to be tracked – while more than 99 percent don’t exercise their choice when faced with a ‘privacy fee’.” The group fears that if Meta’s approach is accepted, other companies may adopt similar strategies.

Meta responded to the complaint, stating that the subscription model aligns with European regulators’ requirements, providing users with a choice while enabling Meta to continue serving all users in the EU, EEA, and Switzerland. The company emphasized that the pricing of its subscription offering is comparable to similar services in Europe, citing examples like Netflix, YouTube Premium, and Spotify.

NOYB has urged the Austrian privacy authority to initiate an expedited process to halt Meta’s practices and impose fines. The complaint is likely to be forwarded to the Irish data protection watchdog, as Meta’s European headquarters is in Ireland, and the regulator oversees Meta’s compliance with EU data protection laws.

In addition, Meta’s new ad-free subscription option comes with additional restrictions that users might not have initially realized. The subscription not only eliminates ads from the user’s feed but also disables the ability to run ads, boost posts for personal or business profiles, or participate in partnership ads on Instagram or Facebook. 

Written by Gizem Yılmaz


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