July 15, 2024

Meta is considering charging EU users €13 a month to access an ad-free version of Instagram or Facebook on their phones, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The tech giant is also considering a €16 fee to use Instagram and Facebook without adverts on desktop. Accessing both apps on smartphones would cost about €19 a month — a whopping €230 per year.   

The proposal is an attempt by Meta to appease EU regulators, who are cracking down on social media platforms that display highly targeted ads without first gaining user consent. 

Regulations limiting the company’s use of personal data for advertising could be a significant hit to its main source of income. The company said the Europe region generated 23% of its $31.5 billion in advertising revenue in the second quarter of this year.

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In July, the European Court of Justice found that Facebook was in breach of the GDPR because of its non-consensual ad practices. The court ruling raised the possibility of charging an “appropriate fee” to access an ad-free version. 

Offering a choice between a free, ad-supported plan, and a paid subscription might lead to users opting for the former. This would help Meta comply with regulations while still generating revenue.   

A Meta spokesperson said the company still believes in “free services which are supported by personalized ads,” but is exploring “options to ensure we comply with evolving regulatory requirements.”

However, it is understood that regulators are looking at the size of the fees and whether they are too expensive. 

‘Paying for your fundamental rights’

Max Schrems, the privacy campaigner who has bought several successful legal proceedings against Meta over the years, said the proposal essentially amounts to paying for your right to have your personal data protected.  

“Fundamental rights cannot be for sale. Are we going to pay for the right to vote or the right to free speech next? This would mean that only the rich can enjoy these rights, at a time when many people are struggling to make ends meet,” said Schrems, adding that his privacy rights not-for-profit noyb (None of Your Business) would fight the proposal “up and down the courts.” 

For now, it isn’t clear if regulators in Ireland or Brussels will green-light the new plan, or whether they will insist Meta offer cheaper or even free versions with ads that aren’t personalised.

Meta officials are currently in talks with privacy regulators in Ireland and digital competition regulators in Brussels. The plan has also been shared with other EU privacy watchdogs for their input.

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