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Meta Platforms’ paid ad-free service targeted in Austrian privacy complaint

A blue verification badge and the logos of Facebook and Instagram are seen in this picture illustration taken January 19, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
A blue verification badge and the logos of Facebook and Instagram are seen in this picture illustration taken January 19, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

An advocacy group called NOYB filed a complaint with an Austrian regulator on Tuesday, stating that it amounted to paying a price to protect privacy. This was one of the most significant challenges Meta Platforms (META.O) faced when it launched its premium no-ads membership service in Europe this month.

A month ago, Meta published an announcement regarding the service for Facebook and Instagram. It stated that the action was based on EU regulations that stipulate consumers must be provided with the option to decide whether or not their data may be gathered and used for targeted advertisements.

The monthly fee for the ad-free service was 9.99 euros ($10.90) for web users, and it was 12.99 euros for users of iOS and Android technology. Meta has stated that a subscription model is a legal form of permission for an advertising-funded service, and this statement was based on a verdict that the highest court in Europe handed down in July.

Users have the option of using a service that is free and supported by advertisements. Max Schrems, a privacy activist, founded the Vienna-based digital rights organization NOYB (None of Your Business), which declared that it disagreed with Meta’s interpretation of the word consent.

“According to EU legislation, consent must result from the user’s free will. “In violation of this legislation, Meta imposes a ‘privacy cost’ of up to 250 euros per year on anybody who dares to use their fundamental right to data protection,” Felix Mikolasch, a data protection lawyer for the NOYB, said in a statement.”

The complaint in question was submitted to the Austrian Data Protection Authority by NOYB. Criticism was also made over the quantity of the cost.

“Not only is the cost unacceptable, but industry numbers suggest that only 3 percent of people want to be tracked, while more than 99 percent don’t exercise their choice when faced with a ‘privacy fee’,” claimed the advocacy organization. “If Meta gets away with this, competitors will soon follow in its footsteps.”

Meta commented, “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.”

A spokeswoman for Meta pointed out that the prices were comparable to those of subscriptions offered in Europe, which were quite close.

Comparatively, the essential Netflix (NFLX.O) membership plan costs 7.99 euros, while Alphabet’s (GOOGL.O) YouTube Premium service costs about 12 euros and Spotify’s (SPOT.N) premium service costs about 11 euros.

The National Organization for Youth (NOYB), which has lodged hundreds of complaints against extensive technology corporations such as Alphabet (GOOGL.O), Google, and Meta for violating privacy, has requested the Austrian privacy authority to initiate a streamlined procedure to halt Meta and to levy a punishment.

Considering that Meta’s European headquarters are located in Ireland, it is quite probable that the complaint will be referred to the Irish data protection body responsible for monitoring Meta.

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