Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Meta announced that it will introduce a subscription option without advertisements for Facebook and Instagram in Europe starting next month. This move reflects the impact of government pressure on large tech companies to modify their main products.

The subscription option will be available to users in the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, allowing them to choose between using Facebook or Instagram for free with ads or subscribing to remove ads. Meta mentioned that it is complying with evolving European regulations in implementing this subscription feature.

The subscription prices will range from 9.99 euros a month ($10.58) on the web to 12.99 euros a month ($13.75) on iOS and Android devices, covering both Facebook and Instagram accounts. Starting from March 1, 2024, an additional fee of 6 euros a month for web access and 8 euros a month for mobile access will be applied to extra accounts.

Meta’s primary business model has revolved around offering free social networking services and selling ads to reach its user base. However, the introduction of a paid tier signifies that tech companies need to redesign their products to align with data privacy regulations and government policies, particularly in Europe. Other companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, and TikTok are also making similar changes to comply with new rules in the European Union.

To protect user privacy, the European Court of Justice, the highest court in the E.U., prohibited Meta in July from combining data collected across its platforms (including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp) and from external websites and apps without explicit user consent. In January, the E.U. regulators fined Meta 390 million euros for requiring personalized ads as a condition for using Facebook.

The July ruling from the European Court of Justice suggested that offering a subscription service could be a way for Meta to comply with the judgment, allowing users to access the platforms without their personal data being used for advertising purposes.

Meta stated on its website that it respects and is committed to adhering to these evolving European regulations. While the company is dedicated to keeping user information private and secure, it believes in supporting an ad-supported internet that provides personalized products and services and enables small businesses to connect with potential customers.

Max Schrems, a privacy activist in Austria who has challenged Meta legally and contributed to these product changes, argued that the subscription offerings do not comply with the European Union’s data privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation. He intends to challenge it in court.

“If we transition to a pay-for-your-rights system, the extent of your privacy may depend on your financial resources,” stated Mr. Schrems. “We are highly doubtful if this complies with the law.”

Apart from Meta, by March, Apple is expected to be required to allow customers to download alternatives to its App Store for the first time under the Digital Markets Act, another E.U. law introduced to enhance competition in the tech industry. Google is also making adjustments to abide by this new law.

In December of last year, Amazon modified its shopping service to provide third-party merchants with more prominent visibility on its website, as part of a settlement with E.U. antitrust regulators.

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