Privacy watchdogs within the EU have weighed in on the implementation of “consent or pay” models by online platforms

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Privacy watchdogs within the EU have weighed in on the implementation of “consent or pay” models by online platforms, stressing the need for genuine user choice. This opinion, issued by the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), underscores concerns about the prevailing practice where users must either surrender their data or opt to pay for ad-free access.

Anu Talus, Chair of the EDPB, emphasized the dilemma faced by users, stating, “The models we have today usually require individuals to either give away all their data or to pay. As a result, most users consent to the processing in order to use a service, and they do not understand the full implications of their choices.”

The opinion, formulated by the heads of national EU data protection authorities, follows Meta’s announcement last October regarding its “consent or pay” approach for Facebook and Instagram users in the EU, EEA, and Switzerland. Meta’s move aimed to comply with the Digital Markets Act (DMA) regulations for platform gatekeepers, following an endorsement by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) of subscription models as a means for users to consent to personalized advertising.

However, the EDPB opinion questions the adequacy of such payment models in ensuring valid consent under EU data protection laws. It asserts that simply offering users a choice between data processing consent and paying a fee may not suffice.

In response, the EDPB suggests that Big Tech companies explore alternatives, advocating for the provision of an “equivalent alternative” alongside paid options. This alternative should offer ad-free access without behavioral advertising, thereby enhancing the assessment of valid consent under the GDPR.

While Meta maintains that its subscription model aligns with EU laws, concerns raised by civil society groups and consumer organizations have prompted further scrutiny. The EU executive has initiated investigations under the DMA, including Meta, citing potential shortcomings in providing genuine alternatives and safeguarding user privacy.

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