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Meta hit with European consumer group complaint over users’ DSA access move


Facebook and Instagram owner Meta has been hit with a formal complaint over its attempts to charge European users to access the European Union’s Digital Services Act protections.

The US tech giant announced recently that customers who did not want to be served tailored advertising based on their personal information would need to pay at least €9.99 a month for the privilege. The free version requires users to agree for their data to be used to present them with specific adverts.

According to the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), this new system runs contrary to European law and it has filed a complaint with the European Consumer Protection Cooperation Network (CPC) that Meta’s move is both “unfair and illegal”.

“Meta is breaching EU consumer law by using unfair, deceptive and aggressive practices, including partially blocking consumers from using the services to force them to take a decision quickly, and providing misleading and incomplete information in the process,” BEUC said.

The group claimed Meta’s decision to block customers from using either Facebook or Instagram until explicitly opting either for the free or paid version of its services is in violation of European legislation.

“Through persistence and by creating a sense of urgency, Meta pushes consumers into making a choice they might not want to take,” BEUC said.

It also said Meta’s description of the two tiers is misleading and that the paid service gives users the impression they will not have their online activity tracked if they choose to pay the monthly subscription fee.

“In fact, users are likely to continue to have their personal data collected and used, but for purposes other than ads,” the organisation said.

It added that the price of the paid subscription is also too high, meaning customers could be “deterred” from having a “real choice”.

BEUC said calling the plan that includes advertising “free” is also misleading, as users are effectively paying for the service with their data.

“Consumer protection authorities in the EU must now spring into action and force the tech giant to stop this practice,” it said.

Speaking to Brussels Signal, a Meta spokesman contested the BEUC’s allegations, insisting that the subscription model it had adopted had “already been endorsed by the Court of Justice of the European Union” in a previous ruling.

“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 the EU, EEA and Switzerland,” the spokesman said.

“In its ruling, the CJEU expressly recognised that a subscription model, like the one we are announcing, is a valid form of consent for an ads funded service.”

The spokesman added that the subscription price of €9.99 was in line with “similar” products offered by YouTube, Netflix, streaming platform Twitch and web forum platform Reddit.