NOYB files GDPR complaint against Meta's tiered subscription model

30/11/2023 | NOYB

On Tuesday, 28 November, Austrian privacy campaign group NOYB filed a complaint against Meta with the Austrian Data Protection Authority (DPA) for a violation of Articles 6(1), 8(2), 7(4) and 5(1)(a) of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) concerning the social media company's move to offer users in the EU, EEA and Switzerland the choice to pay a monthly subscription to access Facebook and Instagram without any ads.

NOYB claims that it is unacceptable to charge European users up to €251.88 a year to retain their fundamental right to data protection, particularly as industry figures they cite suggest only 3 per cent of users are happy to be tracked but that over 99 per cent would select the free option rather than pay a fee. The concept of freely given consent for targeted behavioural advertising can only apply where no coercion is applied. Meta's new approach appears in direct contrast to a genuine free choice. 

Furthermore, NOYB argues that if Meta is allowed to continue offering its tiered subscription model, its competitors will quickly adopt a similar approach. This could cost European users around €8,815 each year based on the average number of apps installed on smartphones. 

In a statement, the honorary chair of NOYB, Max Schrems, said, "Fundamental rights are usually available to everyone. How many people would still exercise their right to vote if they had to pay €250 to do so? There were times when fundamental rights were reserved for the rich. It seems Meta wants to take us back for more than a hundred years... More than 20% of the EU population are already at risk of poverty. For the complainant in our case, as for many others, a 'Pay or Okay' system would mean paying the rent or having privacy."

On Thursday, 30 November, a second complaint filed by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) with the network of consumer protection authorities (CPC) accused Meta of unfair commercial practices. According to the BEUC, Meta is partially blocking the use of Facebook and Instagram until users have made a choice, which is considered an aggressive practice under European consumer law. 

The complaint also alleges that Meta is misleading users by presenting the choice as between a paid version and a free version when the latter option is not actually free, as consumers pay with their data. Moreover, Meta's paid subscription option is presented as a privacy-friendly option involving less tracking and profiling, but in reality, users are likely to continue to have their personal data collected and used for purposes other than ads. BEUC claims that Meta provides misleading and incomplete information to consumers, which does not allow them to make an informed choice. 

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