Published on February 29, 2024, 2:27 am

Meta, the tech giant formerly known as Facebook, stirred controversy last year with its decision to implement a new payment model for users in the European Union. The company introduced a paid subscription option for an ad-free experience on Facebook and Instagram, but only if users agreed to be tracked and profiled. This move aimed to sustain Meta’s microtargeting ad business by monetizing user attention.

This “consent or pay” model has raised concerns among consumer rights groups within the EU. Currently, regional users have the choice to pay €9.99 per month on web (or €12.99 per month on mobile) to avoid seeing ads on their linked accounts, or agree to tracking for free access. As a result, users are essentially faced with a dilemma: either pay for privacy or sacrifice privacy for free access.

Consumer rights organizations from various EU countries are taking action against this controversial approach by filing complaints with national data protection authorities. These groups argue that Meta’s model fails to meet legal standards of valid consent under GDPR regulations, emphasizing that true consent should be freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous.

The crux of the issue lies in Meta’s data processing practices for ad targeting purposes. Consumer groups accuse Meta of violating GDPR principles such as purpose limitation, data minimization, fair processing, and transparency. Breaches of these regulations can result in significant penalties amounting up to 4% of global annual turnover.

Ursula Pachl from BEUC underscores that Meta’s insistence on surveillance-based business models through coercive consent tactics threatens fundamental privacy rights. Together with legal analysis conducted by experts and member organizations, BEUC contends that Meta’s data processing practices infringe upon GDPR guidelines in multiple ways.

Moreover, concerns extend beyond GDPR violations as European consumer protection rules also come into play concerning unfair and deceptive practices by Meta. Given this multifaceted challenge against Meta’s data collection methods and commercial strategies, regulatory bodies such as the European Commission are being called upon to ensure compliance with evolving digital regulations like the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA).

In light of mounting pressure from consumer groups and regulatory bodies, Meta is facing increased scrutiny regarding its consent-driven revenue model in the EU market. The outcome of these challenges could potentially reshape how tech giants operate within the region while safeguarding user privacy rights amidst a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

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