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EU watchdogs are concerned about Meta's "Pay or Okay" model for ad-free subscriptions

The Meta logo on a yellow background

Meta is facing resentment from European watchdogs because of the introduction of ad-free subscriptions last year. There were already complaints about the service charges by Meta, but in today's joint letter, more EU watchdogs are speaking against the payment for an ad-free subscription.

The main concern of the 28 organizations is the €12.99 ($13.98) per month fee (€250 per year) Meta is taking to protect user data and privacy. The organizations include Norwegian, Dutch, and Hamburg data protection authorities (DPAs), the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, Wikimedia Europe, and more.

Among the concerned parties, is Max Schrems, a privacy activist from NOYB (European Center for Digital Rights), a European non-profit organization that contests the digital rights of Europeans. He shared his views about Meta’s Pay or Okay policy mentioning:

“It is clear that the laissez-faire approach on ‘Pay or Okay’ in some member states is a failure. For example, Germany got flooded with ‘Pay or Okay’ systems in just nine months after the authorities allowed it. The authorities now have the chance to reverse their national approach when this gets voted on in Brussels.”

The letter to the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) mentions that the “Pay or Okay” could be replicated by other companies that would violate consumer rights. Users would have to allow the “use, sharing, or selling of personal data” because the fee to pay for the “reject” option would be expensive for users.

The document also pointed out that the paid reject buttons have provided news publishers with little income since a larger share of the profits stays with the advertising companies. Moreover, the organizations addressed that having the accept button automatically selected is considered illegal, however, charging a fee to reject the option is not. The letter explained:

“Given that ‘pay or okay’ results in an even higher (forced) consent rate of more than
99.9% we fail to see how charging up to € 251,88 for clicking a reject button is
legal when compared to moving the ‘reject’ option to the second layer or a ‘pre-ticked’

NOYB also pointed out that paying the fee would mean a family spends € 35,263.20 ($37,963.83) per year if they have 35 apps on their phone that follow the pay or okay model.

To defend the company, a Meta spokesperson told Reuters:

“Subscription for no ads' addresses the latest regulatory developments, guidance, and judgments shared by leading European regulators and the courts over recent years. Specifically, it conforms to direction given by the highest court in Europe: in July, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) endorsed the subscriptions model as a way for people to consent to data processing for personalised advertising."

While Meta believes its goals aligned with EU laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation and Digital Markets Act, the 28 organizations suggest that it robs the users of “genuine or free choice” of deciding how their data is used.

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