The digital rights group NOYB (None Of Your Business), founded by privacy activist Max Schrems, has filed its first complaint about a paid ad-free subscription being offered by Mark Zuckerburg’s Meta Platforms.

Last month in October, Meta said it would launch an ad-free paid subscription option for Facebook and Instagram, in an effort to comply with European privacy legislation.

The paid subscription was launched this month for Facebook and Instagram users (aged 18 and over) in the European Union, as well as the EEA (European Economic Area, i.e Europe plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), and Switzerland. The UK is not part of the EU or EEA.

Max Schrems, founder of NOYB.
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Paid subscription

In order to see no adverts on their feeds, Facebook and Instagram users in those countries or blocs can pay a web (desktop) subscription cost of €9.99 (£8.73) per month, or €12.99 (£11.36) per month for iOS or Android users.

Meta is rolling out the subscription option because of EU privacy legislation and a court ruling.

Under the EU’s Digital Markets Act legislation, Meta’s social networking platforms has to gain explicit consent before tracking a user for advertising purposes.

Meta in January 2023 had been hit with a €390m (£343m) fine from Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), after an EU ruling that Meta’s legal justification for targeting users with personalised ads broke EU data laws.

The European court of justice, the highest in the European Union, ruled that under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Facebook cannot justify using personal details to target people with personalised ads unless it receives their consent first.

Meta’s main revenue stream is from providing adverts, and European users still can opt for a free, but ad-supported service.

First complaint

Now Vienna-based NOYB has confirmed that “being tracked for personalised advertising by Meta – or pay up to €251.88 a year to retain the fundamental right to data protection” – has resulted in it filing a new GDPR complaint against Meta over “Pay or Okay”.

NOYB said it disagreed with Meta on the concept of consent, as well as the price of the plan, and had filed the complaint with the Austrian data protection authority.

“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 decide against a payment when faced with a ‘privacy fee’”, said NOYB. “If Meta gets away with this, competitors will soon follow in its footsteps.”

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

Meanwhile Max Schrems on X (aka Twitter) tweeted that more complaints will be filed.

Meta response

Meanwhile a Meta spokesperson told Reuters that the pricing was in line with similar subscription offerings in Europe.

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.

The complaint filed with Austrian authorities will likely be forwarded to the Irish data protection watchdog which oversees Meta because it has its European headquarters in Ireland, Reuters noted.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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