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Meta Hit With E.U. Complaints Over ‘Pay-or-Consent’ Data Collection for Targeted Ads


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Meta Platforms Inc. faces a swathe of complaints in Europe for allegedly failing to get proper consent before collecting vast amounts of data about Facebook and Instagram users so it can target the ads they see.

Eight consumer organizations will lodge the complaints with national data watchdogs on Thursday, accusing Meta of creating a “smokescreen” by offering users the choice of using ad-free versions of their social media services as long as they pay. 

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The groups claim this violates the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, which allows fines as high as 4% of annual revenue for the most serious infractions.

Meta’s “unfair ‘pay-or-consent’ choice is the company’s latest effort to legalize its business model,” Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of E.U.-wide consumer group BEUC, said in a joint statement. It’s “the same old hoovering up of all kinds of sensitive information about people’s lives which it then monetizes through its invasive advertising model.”

Meta has been offering ad-free versions of Facebook and Instagram since November, in return for a monthly fee. The move came in response to increasing pressure and a Europe-wide ban on leveraging the trove of user data to target them with ads without their consent.

Read More: Meta Was Just Fined a Record-Breaking $1.3 Billion by E.U. Regulators

Meta pointed to past statements that the change was backed by an E.U. court ruling last year saying businesses should offer alternatives for customers who don’t want their data collected and sold to advertisers, “if necessary for an appropriate fee.”

“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 Europe, according to Meta.

The consumer complaints will add pressure on data regulators to come to a decision quickly. New E.U. rules will kick in March 7 that will further broaden the powers of watchdogs and impose further limits on platforms to process personal data for advertising purposes, and open the risks for more E.U. scrutiny.

The Irish Data Protection Commission, the lead authority for Meta due to its E.U. base in Dublin, said it’s continuing to assess Meta’s plan. The E.U. panel of data protection watchdogs, called EDPB, is separately working on an opinion “on the requirements for valid consent in the context of consent or pay models implemented by large online platforms,” it said in a statement.

This opinion will be binding on national data watchdogs and provide more clarity on the scope of what’s feasible for tech firms.