Today, privacy activist group noyb (None Of Your Business) has submitted a GDPR complaint against Meta to the Austrian data protection authority. The complaint addresses Meta’s implementation of a “Pay or Okay” system, giving European users the option to either consent to being tracked for personalized advertising or pay up to €251.88 annually to retain their right to data protection on Instagram and Facebook. This move is not only costly but also contradicts the apparent preference of users, with industry data suggesting that only 3 percent of people wish to be tracked, and more than 99 percent opt against payment for a “privacy fee.”
This complaint follows Meta’s recent attempt to circumvent EU privacy laws, as the European Court of Justice ruled in July that Meta’s handling of user data for personalized ads was illegal. Furthermore, in January, the European Data Protection Board fined Meta €390 million for this violation, based on a previous noyb complaint from 2018.
“Freely Given” Consent at a High Price?
Under EU law, consent to online tracking and personalized advertising must be “freely given.” However, Meta’s introduction of a “privacy fee” contradicts this principle, with Facebook imposing a fee of up to €12.99 per month for users who do not consent to personal data processing. This amounts to €251.88 annually for one person using Instagram and Facebook, far exceeding Meta’s reported average revenue per user in Europe.
Scientific research suggests that “Pay or Okay” systems compromise the free will of users, with objective surveys indicating that only 3 to 10 percent of users desire their personal data to be used for targeted advertising. This raises concerns that if Meta succeeds with this approach, other companies may follow suit, potentially making online privacy financially unattainable.
Potential Impact on Affordability and Privacy
If Meta’s strategy prevails, it could lead to a domino effect, with other app providers adopting similar fee structures. With the average person having 35 apps installed, this could result in an annual “fundamental rights fee” of €8,815.80, making data privacy a luxury. This approach disproportionately affects individuals with lower incomes, potentially excluding them from the right to online privacy.
Given the severity of these violations and the extensive user base affected, noyb urges the Austrian data protection authority to initiate an urgency procedure to halt the illegal processing. Additionally, noyb recommends imposing a deterrent fine to prevent other companies from adopting Meta’s approach.
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