Meta Launches Ad-Free Subscription In Europe: A Choice Between Privacy And Personalized Ads


Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has announced that it will introduce an ad-free subscription option in the European Union, the EEA (European Economic Area), and Switzerland. This move comes in response to the growing legal challenges and privacy concerns surrounding the tracking and profiling of users for targeted advertising. Starting next month, users will have the option to pay for an ad-free experience on Meta’s platforms.

Key Takeaway

Meta is offering an ad-free subscription in Europe to address privacy concerns and comply with EU data protection laws.

A Legal Battle for Privacy

In recent years, Meta has faced numerous lawsuits, regulatory enforcements, and court rulings related to privacy and data protection in the EU. These legal challenges have created a situation where Meta can no longer track and profile users without their explicit consent. To ensure compliance with regional data protection laws, Meta has announced its intention to switch to a consent-based model.

However, Meta’s interpretation of “free consent” has raised eyebrows among privacy advocates. The ad-free subscription proposal essentially offers users a choice between paying for privacy or sacrificing their personal data for targeted advertising. Critics argue that this approach does not align with the concept of freely given consent.

The Cost of Privacy

According to Meta’s blog post, the ad-free subscription will cost €9.99 per month on the web or €12.99 per month on iOS or Android for each linked Facebook and Instagram account in a user’s Accounts Center. Additionally, starting from March 1, 2024, an additional fee of €6 per month on the web and €8 per month on iOS or Android will apply for each additional account listed in a user’s Account Center.

For users with multiple accounts, the cost of maintaining privacy on Meta’s platforms could quickly add up. Even for those with a single account, the annual expense for protecting their data from tracking and profiling would be nearly €120 on the web or just over €155 on mobile.

A Delicate Legal Balance

The legality of Meta’s ad-free subscription offering is still under scrutiny. The company is relying on a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which suggested the possibility of charging an “appropriate fee” for an equivalent alternative service without tracking and profiling. Privacy rights groups, such as noyb, have challenged similar practices by news publishers and are likely to contest Meta’s approach.

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), the lead regulator for Meta in the EU, has stated that the evaluation of Meta’s consent-based model is ongoing. The DPC, in consultation with other European supervisory authorities, is assessing whether Meta’s new user offerings comply with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Regulatory Concerns and Gatekeeper Status

Meta’s ad tracking offer is subject to regulatory scrutiny not only under GDPR but also under the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA). The European Commission oversees compliance with these regulations for large online platforms, including Meta. As Meta has been designated as a gatekeeper under the DMA, limits on data usage for advertising apply.

While Meta has stated that its ad-free subscription or tracking choice strikes a balance between regulatory requirements and user preferences, critics remain skeptical. The subscription option is currently only available to users aged 18 and above, raising questions about compliance with the DSA and DMA regarding data processing for ad targeting of minors.

The launch of Meta’s ad-free subscription in Europe marks a significant step towards addressing privacy concerns and complying with EU data protection laws. However, the legal and regulatory landscape surrounding user tracking and profiling is likely to continue evolving, potentially leading to further interventions and challenges for Meta.

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