Meta faces another European challenge over “privacy fee”

A complaint filed with the Austrian data protection authority claims that Meta violates the EU’s privacy laws as it “ignores users’ right" to easily withdraw consent from being tracked on its social media platforms.

Users in the EU can only opt out from being tracked on Facebook and Instagram by going through the “complicated process of switching to a paid subscription,” which is illegal, the digital rights non-profit NOYB has claimed.

The bloc’s privacy laws known as the GDPR stipulate that “it shall be as easy to withdraw as to give consent.”

The non-profit said that one free click is enough to consent to being tracked on Facebook and Instagram for personalized advertising, but revoking the consent requires navigating through several pages and paying a “privacy fee” of an ad-free service.

Starting November, Facebook and Instagram users in the EU were offered ad-free subscription plans to bring Meta’s operations in line with the GDPR legislation which says users must be given a choice on whether their data can be collected and used for targeted ads.

Fees range from €9.99 ($11) per month for web users, and €12.99 ($14) per month for iOS and Android. Beginning March 1st, an additional fee of €6 ($6.6) per month on the web and €8 ($8.8) per month on iOS and Android will apply for each additional account.

“The law is clear, withdrawing consent must be as easy as giving it in the first place. It is painfully obvious that paying €251,88 per year to withdraw consent is not as easy as clicking an “Okay” button to accept the tracking,” said Massimiliano Gelmi, data protection lawyer at NOYB.

The Vienna-based advocacy group challenged Meta’s no-ads subscription model itself in a separate complaint filed with the Austrian regulators in November.

In an email, Meta referred to the company’s earlier blog post regarding the issue, which said that“subscriptions as an alternative to seeing advertising are a well-established and economically viable business model spanning many industries.”

Ad-free service was “the best compliance solution” and “addresses the latest regulatory developments, guidance and judgements shared by leading European regulators and the courts over recent years,” it said.

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