EDPB Challenges Meta’s User Tracking Practices

European Privacy

This article was last updated on April 18, 2024

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The Ultimate Authority – EDPB – Speaks Out

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB), the union of all European privacy regulatory bodies, including the Dutch Data Protection Authority, has recently voiced concerns about the online tracking practices used by big social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. According to them, these platforms may not enforce online tracking of their users as a prerequisite for using their platforms. The European watchdog elucidates that main online platforms must propose a free choice where users are monitored to a ‘minimum extent’. In this model, users would notice advertisements that are not customized to their online behavior and interests. Notably, this implies contextual advertisements that go in line with the present content being viewed by the user. For instance, if a user is viewing content related to cats, they could see an ad for cat food.

Meta’s New Subscription Method – A Result of EDPB’s Ruling

The EDPB has reacted to Meta’s recent decision, the parent company behind Facebook and Instagram. Since November last year, Meta has given its users a choice to opt between versions with personalized advertisements and the premium version where personal data isn’t used to show targeted ads. The premium subscription costs approximately 13 euros per month. If users don’t make a choice, they are unable to use the services. Meta devised this option following the EDPB’s earlier ruling last year that stated that Meta’s personalized advertisements breached European privacy norms. Consequently, the European authority ordered Meta to halt ads based on users’ internet activity.

EDPB Cites ‘Unfair Choice’ for Users

Following the introduction of these new choices by Meta, the EDPB announced another investigation. Considering the current options for users, the EDPB labels them as “not a fair choice.” According to the European authority, users are essentially compelled to ‘pay’ through their personal data. This becomes particularly problematic when the subscription cost is high. Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius, a law professor specializing in ICT at Radboud University, agrees with the EDPB’s stance. He explains that though the regulator can merely interpret the law and not establish new ones, it raises a pertinent question about voluntary consent for personalized advertisements. Responding to these concerns, a spokesperson from Meta expressed that their subscription model is compliant with European law. They stated that the European Court of Justice has affirmed their legality, and the EDPB advice doesn’t alter that position.

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