Austrian Privacy Complaint Challenges Meta Platforms’ Paid Ad-Free Service

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Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is facing a significant challenge in Europe as the paid ad-free subscription service it recently launched has become the subject of a privacy complaint filed by advocacy group NOYB. The complaint, submitted to an Austrian regulator, asserts that the subscription service effectively requires users to pay a fee for privacy protection.

Meta introduced this ad-free service in compliance with European Union rules, emphasizing the importance of providing users with the choice of whether their data can be collected and used for targeted advertising. The subscription, priced at 9.99 euros ($10.90) per month for web users and 12.99 euros for iOS and Android users, is considered by Meta as a valid form of consent for an advertising-funded service, aligning with a July ruling from Europe’s top court.

Users still have the option to choose the free, ad-supported service. However, NOYB, the Vienna-based digital rights group founded by privacy activist Max Schrems, challenges Meta’s interpretation of consent. According to Felix Mikolasch, a data protection lawyer at NOYB, Meta’s approach of charging a “privacy fee” contradicts the genuine free will required by EU law for user consent.

NOYB filed the complaint with the Austrian Data Protection Authority, criticizing not only the concept of the fee but also its amount, which can reach up to 250 euros per year. The group argues that the cost is unreasonable, especially considering industry data indicating that only a small percentage of people actively choose to be tracked, while the majority don’t exercise their choice when faced with a privacy fee. NOYB warns that if Meta is allowed to proceed with this model, other companies may adopt similar practices.

Comparatively, NOYB points out that popular subscription services like Netflix, Alphabet’s YouTube Premium, and Spotify Premium are priced differently. The group has a history of filing privacy complaints against major tech companies and is urging the Austrian privacy authority to expedite the process to halt Meta’s actions and impose fines.

It is anticipated that the complaint will be forwarded to the Irish data protection watchdog, as Meta’s European headquarters are located in Ireland. This regulatory body oversees Meta’s compliance with data protection regulations in Europe.

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