Meta is preparing to charge users in the EU who want to access an ad-free version of Instagram or Facebook on their phones. Sources close to the discussions suggest that the charge could be as much as €13 per month for smartphone access and €17 for desktop use. Accessing both apps on smartphones would cost around €19 a month. It's reported that the new model could be introduced within months.
The report, first published in The Wall Street Journal (£), has since been widely reported in the media, including the Financial Times (£) and The Guardian (see main article). In September, The New York Times reported that Meta was considering offering ad-free versions in the EU but did not include how much the paid versions would cost.
The move comes after the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled against the company in July about whether it can use personal data beyond what is strictly necessary to perform a contract. The CJEU ruling followed two final decisions adopted by the Irish Data Protection Commission in January, fining the company €390 million and concluding that its legal basis for processing user data to deliver targeted advertising was invalid.
In a statement responding to the news, Max Schrems, honorary chairman of the Austrian privacy group NOYB, said, "Fundamental rights cannot be for sale. Are we going to pay for the right to vote or the right to free speech next? This would mean that only the rich can enjoy these rights, at a time when many people are struggling to make ends meet. Introducing this idea in the area of your right to data protection is a major shift. We would fight this up and down the courts."
NOYB claims Meta is relying on the CJEU ruling in case C-252/21 against the company in July. Despite the CJEU finding that all of Meta's legal bases for processing under Article 6 of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) were illegal at the time, the ruling included an additional consideration (obiter dictum). The ruling stated that an alternative to advertising should be offered "if necessary for an appropriate fee." NOYB argues that such additional considerations by a court are typically non-binding and that it needs to be clarified if the CJEU would stick with this wording if Meta's new approach returns to the court.
The model is similar to the "Pay or Okay" approach introduced by the Austrian newspaper Der Standard. Data protection authorities in Austria, Germany and France allowed the approach on the grounds that they were experiencing a drop in advertising revenues to platforms such as Google or Meta. It appears Meta is now using the same tactic. NOYB filed complaints against seven European newspapers over the practice in 2021.
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