Watchdogs in Europe are blasting Meta over its decision to charge Facebook and Instagram users for ad-free versions of the apps.
The large umbrella group European Consumer Organization said in a complaint filed Thursday with consumer protection authorities that Meta uses “unfair, deceptive and aggressive practices” when informing consumers about the new ad-free plans.
“The choice the tech giant is currently providing to consumers is unfair and illegal -- the millions of European users of Facebook and Instagram deserve far better than this,” Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of the European Consumer Organization, stated.
The organization's complaint comes in response to Meta's new ad-free options that allow residents of the European Union, European Economic Area and Switzerland to pay around $11 or $14 a month (depending on location) for ad-free versions of Facebook and Instagram on Android or iOS operating systems. People in those areas can continue to access ad-free versions of Instagram and Facebook, but only if they accept personalized ads.
Meta has said its new paid option will enable it to comply with recent decisions interpreting privacy regulations -- including ruling requiring the company to obtain consumers' express consent to online behavioral advertising.
But the European Consumer Organization and 19 of its members contrend that Meta is giving consumers “misleading and incomplete information” about the plans, and also uses “aggressive” techniques that force people to make fast decisions.
“Through persistence and by creating a sense of urgency, Meta pushes consumers into making a choice they might not want to take,” the group stated.
The organization also says Meta misleads consumers by characterizing the version with ads as “free,” arguing that consumers who use the non-paid service pay by providing Meta with their data.
Earlier in the week, the privacy activist organization nyob (none of your business) filed separate complaint about Meta's new plans with Austria's privacy regulator.
That group said Meta's fees were too high, and warned that other tech companies could follow Meta's lead.
“If Meta is successful in defending this new approach, it is likely to set off a domino effect,” the group wrote. “Already now, TikTok is reportedly testing an ad-free subscription outside the US. Other app providers could follow in the near future, making online privacy unaffordable.”