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Meta's paid ad-free service targeted in Austrian privacy complaint

Meta’s paid no-ads subscription service, which launched in Europe this month, is facing one of its biggest tests. Advocacy group NOYB filed a complaint on Tuesday with an Austrian regulator, saying that it amounted to paying a fee to ensure privacy.

Meta announced the service for Facebook and Instagram last month. It said the move was in compliance with EU rules that users must be given a choice on whether their data can be collected and used for targeted ads.

The ad-free service cost 9.99 euros ($10.90) monthly for Web users and 12.99 euros for iOS and Android users. Meta has said that a subscription model is a valid form of consent for an advertising-funded service and was in line with a July ruling from Europe's top court. Users can opt for a free, ad-supported service.

Vienna-based NOYB (None Of Your Business), the digital rights group founded by privacy activist Max Schrems, said it disagreed with Meta on the concept of consent.

“EU law requires that consent is the genuine free will of the user. Contrary to this law, Meta charges a 'privacy fee' of up to 250 euros per year if anyone dares to exercise their fundamental right to data protection,” NOYB data protection lawyer Felix Mikolasch said in a statement.

NOYB filed the complaint with the Austrian Data Protection Authority. It also criticised the amount of the fee.

“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 said. “If Meta gets away with this, competitors will soon follow in its footsteps.”

By comparison, Netflix charges 7.99 euros for a basic subscription plan, while Alphabet's YouTube Premium costs about 12 euros and Spotify's Premium service is priced at about 11 euros.

NOYB, which has filed hundreds of complaints against big tech companies ranging from Alphabet Google to Meta over privacy violations, urged the Austrian privacy authority to launch an expedited process to stop Meta and also impose a fine.

The complaint will likely be forwarded to the Irish data protection watchdog which oversees Meta because it has its European headquarters in Ireland.

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