Meta’s “pay or consent” model under fire from EU consumer organizations

Facebook asking €12.99 a month for tracking and ads-free experience is now under scrutiny, with EU regulators receiving several complaints from consumer protection organizations.

Meta Platforms' paid ad-free subscription service, which it rolled out in Europe this month, breaches EU consumer laws, Europe's largest consumer group said on Thursday as it took its grievance to consumer protection authorities.

The joint complaint from the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) and 18 of its members to the network of consumer protection authorities (CPC) came two days after advocacy group NOYB (styled from “none of your business,” a non-profit organization based in Vienna), filed a complaint with the Austrian privacy watchdog, saying Meta's new service amounted to paying a fee to ensure privacy.

Meta has said it launched the paid no-ads subscription service, which applies to Facebook and Instagram, to comply with EU rules requiring companies to give users a choice on whether their data can be collected and used for targeted ads.

BEUC singled out several issues.

“Meta is breaching EU consumer law by using unfair, deceptive and aggressive practices, including partially blocking consumers from using the services to force them to take a decision quickly, and providing misleading and incomplete information in the process,” BEUC Deputy Director General Ursula Pachl said in a statement.

BEUC said it was likely that users' data would continue to be collected and used for other purposes even if they select the new service. It also took issue with the "very high subscription fee for ad-free services" which could deter users.

“At this price, consumers are simply going to consent to Meta's profiling and tracking, which is exactly what the tech giant wants. People should not be asked to pay for protecting their privacy,” Pachl said.

The ad-free service cost 9.99 euros ($10.96) monthly for Web users and 12.99 euros for iOS and Android users. Meta has said these prices are in line with Google's YouTube and Spotify's premium services and with Netflix.