EU Lawmakers Demand Meta to Abandon ‘Pay or Be Tracked’ Tactic

Simona Mazzeo

EU lawmakers urge Meta to drop its controversial ‘pay or be tracked’ approach, citing concerns over privacy and data protection.

Meta is encountering a call from lawmakers in the European Union to dump its controversial “consent or pay” tactic on Facebook and Instagram. Currently, the enterprise demands a per-account fee of €9.99/month on the web or €12.99/month on mobile for users in the region wanting to bypass its tracking. No other choice is presented — meaning users desiring to continue accessing the two mainstream social networks for free are compelled to accept a total loss of their privacy.

In its blog post from last year that Meta routinely tells to defend the tactic, it declares: “Subscription for no ads’ addresses the latest regulatory developments, direction and judgments shared by guiding European regulators and the courts over recent years. Especially, it conforms to the direction given by the court in Europe: in July, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) approved the subscriptions model as a way for people to consent to data processing for personalised advertising.”


However, in an open letter, members of the European Parliament blame Meta for manipulating users by suggesting a “false choice” between spending for an ad-free subscription or agreeing to ongoing tracking and profiling via its surveillance-based ad targeting. The letter is managed to Nick Clegg, the company’s president of global affairs — himself a former Brussels-based lawmaker — and has been signed by 36 MEPs, with miniature spanning progressive, left-leaning and centre/centre-left political parties.

In the letter, the MEPs directly embed Meta’s argument for charging a fee — indicating that the CJEU only specified a charge for non-consenting users may be permitted if it is “necessary”.

“[N]o such fee is needed to fund your services,” they claim. 

“‘Pay or okay’ suggests a false choice between purchasing an ads-free experience or consenting to the pervasive pursuit of our online lives followed by surveillance-based advertising. There is a third chance of presenting contextual advertising that does not demand personalised search and surveillance. Studies indicate that contextual advertising is nearly as profitable as surveillance-based advertising.”

The MEPs go on to suggest the company scrap ‘pay or okay’ and “align your company with the principles of the GDPR, respecting the essential rights of EU citizens and residents”.

“The trajectory of privacy and data protection is at a crucial juncture, and it is imperative that all stakeholders, including tech giants like yours, uphold their commitments to safeguard these freedoms. We stand firm in our dedication to maintaining the integrity of the GDPR and ensuring that individuals retain genuine authority over their data without coercion or discrimination,” they finish in what reads like a direct request to Clegg, as a former MEP whose past work would have tasked him with upholding democratic values. 

The MEPs’ aks Meta to respect EU regulation and abandon the cynically self-serving instrument comes as the company faces scrutiny from European Commission enforcers — who, earlier this month, asked it to transmit proof of the legality of the pay-or-be-tracked choice. The bloc’s Digital Services Act (DSA), which involves both Facebook and Instagram, demands platforms get consent for the use of people’s data for ads and requires that withholding consent must be as easy as providing it.

A sequence of GDPR and consumer protection law objections have also been filed since Meta’s shift, last fall, from unlawfully declaring a legitimate interest in pervasively following users to rolling out the ad-free subscription in a fresh bid to hold tracking users. The cost Meta is assessing for the ad-free subscription — which the MEPs recommend is designed to make privacy unaffordable — is one of the problems the complaints target. Such as privacy advocacy not-for-profit noyb’s first objection filed back in November.

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Simona Mazzeo is a journalist at Brussels Morning News. She is covering European Parliament, European Council, European Commission & Italy News. She is a law graduate and lawyer residing in Agropoli, has carved out a multifaceted career dedicated to justice and social advocacy. She actively serves as a delegated councilor for the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Bar Association of Vallo della Lucania, championing fair and equal representation within the legal system. Recognized for her expertise and empathy, Simona is qualified for registration in the list of Special Curators of minors in civil and criminal matters at the Court of Vallo della Lucania, ensuring the rights and interests of vulnerable children are protected throughout legal proceedings. Beyond her legal practice, Simona demonstrates a strong commitment to social causes. She is a founding member of the Free Lawyer Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing legal assistance to those who cannot afford it. Additionally, she leverages her knowledge and passion for social justice as a non-professional journalist, contributing insightful and informative pieces on relevant legal and societal issues. Through her diverse endeavors, Simona Mazzeo exemplifies dedication to legal excellence, social responsibility, and a fervent belief in equal access to justice for all.