Meta’s EU Social Media Subscription Plan Draws Complaints

Meta Platforms’ workaround to European privacy laws regarding ad-targeting has run afoul of watchdog agencies, resulting in two complaints filed with the EU’s network of consumer protection authorities against the U.S. tech giant. Meta contends its so-called “pay-or-consent model” — requiring users of its social platforms to choose between agreeing to be tracked for ad-targeting purposes or pay a monthly subscription fee for ad-free service — falls within permissible parameters set by EU authorities. The more than 20 groups that have jointly filed suit say the strategy is illegal under EU law, describing it as “unfair, deceptive and aggressive.”

Given that the arguments for or against hinge on the definition of “reasonable fees,” the case is sure to play out for years within the agencies and, it would seem, eventually the courts.

“Starting this month, EU users of Meta’s social networks, Facebook and Instagram, are being offered the ‘choice’ of agreeing to being tracked and profiled by the behavioral ads business in order to continue/get free access to its products — or else they must pay it a monthly subscription for an ad-free version of its mainstream social networks,” writes TechCrunch.

“However, starting March 1, 2024, costs will go up,” Ars Technica reports, noting “after that date, linking your Instagram or additional Meta accounts to your subscription will cost an extra 6 euros/month on the web and 8 euros/month on iOS and Android.”

Meta announced the controversial new EU plan on October 30, stating “to comply with evolving European regulations, we are introducing a new subscription option in the EU, EEA and Switzerland.”

“Meta said that it made this change after a July ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that ‘recognized that a subscription model, like the one we are announcing, is a valid form of consent for an ads-funded service,’” Ars Technica writes.

“This is an unfair choice for users, which runs afoul of EU consumer law on several counts and must be stopped,” the European consumer organization BEUC (Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs) said in a press release.

The BEUC complaint has the support of 18 member organizations, which include consumer advocacy groups from EU member states Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

The BEUC’s joint complaint “came two days after advocacy group NOYB filed a complaint with the Austrian privacy watchdog” CPC, writes Reuters.

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