Meta sued by privacy group over pay up or click OK model

Scrolling through endless humblebrags without targeted ads is a fundamental right, according to privacy expert

Privacy activist group noyb (None Of Your Business) has filed a data protection complaint against Meta over the "Pay or Okay" subscription model, one it reckons is now being considered by many of Meta's rivals.

The complaint was filed with the Austrian data protection authority. The gist is that the right to privacy is a fundamental right, and making a customer pay – up to €251.88 ($275) annually, according to noyb – for that right somewhat defeats the object.

Felix Mikolasch, data protection lawyer at noyb, said: "EU law requires that consent is the genuine free will of the user. Contrary to this law, Meta charges a 'privacy fee' of up to €250 per year if anyone dares to exercise their fundamental right to data protection."

At the end of October, Meta told web users of its platforms in the EU, EEA, and Switzerland that for €9.99 per month it would stop slurping their personal data for marketing purposes and serving ads to them. The price was higher for mobile users and will rise further in 2024 for additional accounts.

Meta wanted cash to stop pulling in users' data, which seems at odds with the spirit of regulatory rulings, prompting noyb to file a complaint.

The privacy activists disclosed some alarming statistics and warned that Meta's rivals are closely monitoring how the subscription plans pan out. It noted that TikTok was reportedly also trying out an ad-free subscription outside the United States.

Going further, the group extrapolated Google research, showing that the average person had 35 apps on their smartphone. It said: "If all of these apps followed Meta's lead and charged a similar fee, people would have to pay a 'fundamental rights fee' of €8,815.80 a year."

The point is well made. Just as video streaming service costs have increased over the years, we can well imagine others looking to swell their coffers in the name of privacy.

Noyb noted that Meta put its average revenue per user in Europe at around €62.88 per year, considerably less than the amount it expects those users to pay for the privilege of not having their personal data studied.

The Register asked Meta for comment. We were given this statement from the company's earlier blog on the matter: "The option for people to purchase a subscription for no ads balances the requirements of European regulators while giving users choice and allowing Meta to continue serving all people in the EU, EEA and Switzerland.

"In its ruling, the CJEU expressly recognised that a subscription model, like the one we are announcing, is a valid form of consent for an ads funded service."

The Meta spokesperson also pointed out that its pricing was in line with those of ad-free services such as YouTube Premium and Spotify Premium. "The subscriptions model is well established, and has already been endorsed by the Court of Justice of the European Union."

For its part, noyb is not backing down. Lawyer and privacy activist 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."

Or one could just uninstall Facebook, delete one's account, and walk away from the whole mess. ®

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