What if Facebook and Instagram became paid? What was a bad joke could well become reality within the European Union in the months to come. The American group Meta would indeed like to offer a market to European Internet users. Either they accept that the way they use Facebook and Instagram (their comments, their likes, the pages followed, etc.) is used to put personalized advertisements in front of them. Either they refuse this capture and will, in return, have to take out a subscription to continue using these applications.
These ad-redacted versions of Facebook and Instagram would be offered at 10 euros per month. The price would increase to 13 euros if the subscription is taken out from a smartphone, in order to cover the fees charged by Apple and Google.
This scenario was proposed to European authorities in September, according to the Wall Street Journal. This is not a fad of the American group, but a strategy to limit the potentially disastrous effects for its finances of the European data protection regulation (GDPR), passed in 2018. The latter obliges digital players to let European Internet users decide whether or not they want their data to be captured, exploited and resold. Consent which must be free and informed. However, this capture is the heart of Meta's economic model, of which nearly 25% of turnover comes from Europe.
Since 2018, Facebook's parent company has limited the damage by reinterpreting the concept of consent to its advantage. By opening an account on Facebook or Instagram, European Internet users must accept the capture of their data. Otherwise, they cannot register. This legal basis, similar to a civil law contract, was denounced by the Noyb association of Austrian activist Max Schrems. The Irish CNIL, Meta's supervisory authority for the implementation of the GDPR, ruled in favor at the beginning of 2023 and fined Meta €390 million.
The Californian group immediately appealed this decision. But a judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union in another case, published in July, increased the pressure on Meta. The latter affirms that the “legitimate interest” of a social network in selling targeted advertising cannot be greater than the need to obtain the consent of the Internet user. Meta must therefore give its European users the choice, and display a consent banner to data collection.
A detail in this judgment did not escape the lawyers of the king of social networks. It specifies that the platform must provide access to its service to users who refuse collection, “if necessary for an appropriate sum”. Hence the idea of this subscription, the sum of which would compensate for the shortfall. According to Meta's latest financial disclosures, Facebook's European users earn it an average of $17.88 per quarter. According to the Wall Street Journal, the group also argued to European authorities that its rate of 10 euros per month is similar to the ad-free offerings of services such as YouTube or Spotify.
The Noyb association warned this Tuesday that it will not hesitate to take legal action if Meta's plan becomes reality in Europe. “Fundamental rights are not for sale,” commented Max Schrems. “Introducing the idea of payment into the area of personal data protection rights is a major turning point, and we will fight it.”
The future of this proposal is now in the hands of European regulators. They will be able to accept it, reject it, or request a lower subscription price so that it is accessible to as many people as possible.