HomeInsightsPay-or-consent business model: complaints against Meta


Eight consumer groups, represented by BEUC (an EU consumer organisation), have filed complaints with their national data protection authorities against Meta. In November 2023, following earlier proceedings and investigations against it, Meta started asking its Facebook and Instagram users to give consent to the processing of their personal data for advertising purposes or alternatively to pay a fee of €9.99 (web) or €12.99 (iOS and Android) a month. BEUC’s Summary Report of the complaints asserts that Meta collects much more data than it states in its privacy policy, including data which allows Meta to infer private details about its users. Research shows that Facebook likes can be used to infer sexual orientation, political views and use of addictive substances, a clickstream pattern can be used to predict education levels, and location data can be used to infer social connections and emotions. According to BEUC, all of this information is used by Meta to profile and group consumers according to the likelihood that they will click on an ad or make a purchase (e.g. use of data to automatically classify someone as prone to addiction). BEUC concludes that the use of data which goes far beyond what is needed to deliver targeted advertising, or the use of data for these multiple purposes, without being clear with consumers about the true extent of the processing, breaches data protection law requirements around purpose limitation, data minimisation, fair processing and transparency, and lacks a valid legal basis under the GDPR.

Although Meta has moved to consent as a legal basis (hence “pay-or-consent”), BUEC’s view is that Meta’s dominant position makes it hard for consumers to switch to other services which means that such consents are effectively forced and, as such, invalid.  BEUC members have also previously filed a complaint with the EU Consumer Protection Cooperation network against Meta for using misleading and aggressive commercial practices to deceive and pressure consumers into giving up their data. Further, under the pay-or-consent model, consumers are not clear how the processing changes if they choose one option or the other, and Meta has failed to justify how the fee it proposes to charge is necessary.

In another development, on 1 March 2024, the European Commission sent Meta a formal request for information under the Digital Services Act (“DSA”) relating to the pay-or-consent model seeking information on the measures it has taken to comply with its obligations concerning Facebook and Instagram’s advertising practices, recommender systems and risk assessments related to the introduction of the new subscription option. This request, to which Meta has to respond by 22 March 2024, builds on an earlier requests sent to Meta under the DSA seeking information on other aspects of its services.

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