In a latest move to address privacy concerns in the European Union, Facebook and Instagram owner, Meta, is reportedly considering offering an ad-free subscription version of its service. This comes in response to a landmark ruling by the bloc’s top court which found that the tech giant’s targeted advertising practices violate EU law.
Meta is reportedly exploring the option of offering an ad-free subscription version of its service in the EU to address privacy concerns. This move comes after the company faced legal challenges for its targeted advertising practices. However, the potential introduction of a fee raises questions about the limits of consent and the possible implications for user privacy rights.
The European Union has been cracking down on companies that track and profile user activity without a valid legal basis. Earlier this year, privacy regulators ruled that Meta cannot claim a legitimate interest or contractual necessity for its data processing practices. The only remaining option for Meta is to obtain informed, specific, and freely given consent from users under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
However, Meta’s proposed solution is to introduce an ad-free subscription model, where users who do not wish to pay a monthly fee would have to accept personalized ads that involve tracking and profiling. The Wall Street Journal reported that Meta is currently in talks with EU data protection regulators regarding this option.
Privacy Advocacy Group Responds
Privacy rights advocacy group, noyb, has spoken out against Meta’s potential move, highlighting concerns about fundamental rights being exchanged for a fee. The group has previously challenged news publishers’ “pay or okay” approach and is prepared to take legal action against any similar pay-for-privacy tactic adopted by Meta.
Max Schrems, founder of noyb, expressed his worries about the potential implications of this approach, stating that allowing a Big Tech company to charge a fee for tracking-ad-free access would set a dangerous precedent of “paying for rights.”
While news publishers have been allowed to offer users the choice of subscribing or accepting tracking in order to support journalism, Meta’s situation is different as it primarily deals with user-generated content. It is still unclear what an “appropriate” or “necessary” fee would entail in Meta’s case. Additionally, there are other types of advertising, such as contextual advertising, that do not require user data processing, which Meta could explore instead.
The legality of Meta’s new strategy is likely to face legal challenges, especially considering the requirements outlined in the European Commission’s Digital Markets Act. The EU competition regulation aims to level the playing field for platforms and ensure user consent is freely given and unambiguous.
Ultimately, the success of Meta’s ad-free subscription model will depend on whether regulators and users find it to be a genuine alternative to tracking-based advertising and if the fee is deemed fair and reasonable. This issue highlights the ongoing tension between privacy rights and the business models of tech giants.