What could Meta’s ad-free paid subscription service mean for user privacy in Europe?

Gina Wisse

Assistant Head of Paid Social and Programmatic

Industry News

Meta, the parent company of social networks Facebook and Instagram, has introduced a new ad-free subscription option for users aged 18 and over, in the EU, EEA and Switzerland. In a statement released by Meta, Meta said:

Back in August, we shared our intention to move people in the EU, EEA, and Switzerland to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legal basis of “Consent” for the purpose of processing data collected on our platforms for advertising purposes. We are doing this to address a number of evolving regulatory requirements, notably the regulatory interpretation of the GDPR from our lead regulator in the EU, the Irish Data Protection Commission, as well as anticipating the entry into force of the Digital Markets Act (DMA).

While Meta is not the first social media company to offer a paid subscription version of their products — YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter (now, X) all offer subscription options— they are the first to do so to comply with user privacy legislation. Therefore, this new subscription offering is only available in countries that fall under EU regulations, in addition to the European Economic Area and Switzerland.

How much does the ad-free Facebook and Instagram subscription in Europe cost?


Users in Europe can either pay €9.99 per month when using Meta on the web or €12.99 per month when using Meta on iOS and Android to have their data protected from being sold to advertisers. But in March fees are due to change for those users with additional accounts. Meta said:

Until March 1, 2024, the initial subscription covers all linked accounts in a user’s Accounts Center. However, beginning March 1, 2024, an additional fee of €6/month on the web and €8/month on iOS and Android will apply for each additional account listed in a user’s Account Center.

For those EU users who still choose to use the free versions of Facebook and Instagram, there is still a strong possibility that their data will be sold to advertisers.

How will the Meta paid subscription affect user data?


Whether or not users will opt-in to the new paid, ad-free versions of Facebook and Instagram remains to be seen. However, since the subscription versions of the services do not offer any additional benefits or features beyond the protection of user data, the likely outcome will be that users continue to use the free offering. On this point, Meta said:

We believe in a free, ad-supported internet – and will continue to offer people free access to our personalised products and services regardless of income. If you choose to continue to use our products for free, your experience will stay the same – and that experience will continue to be supported by the tools and settings that we have created to empower people to control their ads experience. These include Ad Preferences, which offers a range of controls that enable you to influence the ads you see as well as the data used to inform these ads, including activity information from ad partners.

Although this new subscription model is available to those over 18 years of age, it is still being refined for users under 18. Regarding ads being presented to these users, Meta said:

We will temporarily stop showing ads to teens in the EU, EEA, and Switzerland as early as the week of November 6, 2023, as we continue to evaluate the impact of EU regulation. During this temporary pause in ads delivery, businesses can continue to connect with teens organically on Facebook and Instagram. We’ll share more details in the coming months about how the EU teen ad experience may change.





Why should you keep an eye on this EU development?


Despite its limit to the European Union, this model could become more widespread as nations and users alike become more concerned with user data privacy. In just the last few years, the EU, UK, and several US states have enacted laws that limit the use of cookies to gather data on user behaviours. Should more countries adopt similar data protection rules, the choice ultimately falls to the users: would they rather pay a monthly subscription fee to ensure their data remains private or continue to use these platforms for free?

How will Meta’s ad-free subscription affect advertising worldwide?


The main benefit to the ad-free subscription is, of course, that it offers users the chance to use Facebook and Instagram without ads. We suspect that most users will not opt for a paid service, but there still will be a number of users this subscription appeals to. Therefore, paid social and programmatic advertisers who rely on this data should continue to have the same access to it as they do now.

Even if a percentage of users do opt-in to this new model, should the vast majority of users continue to enjoy the free version, the (presumably) slight loss of user data available to advertisers will be a drop in the ocean. However, if an individual user currently advertises on Facebook and then chooses the paid subscription, they will no longer be able to advertise on the platform.

Still, with Meta’s new subscription offering going live last November, we are intrigued to see how many Facebook and Instagram users opt-in to the ad-free versions. Whether users choose an ad-free subscription or not, Meta is committed to putting its users are the forefront of their offerings:

We remain committed to ensuring that people who choose to use our services for free continue to have a positive ad experience. At Meta, we believe that technology is about giving everyone a voice, and that the best way to do that is to offer services for free – and that’s why we will always advocate for an internet funded by ads.

It’s worth remembering that Meta constantly reviews their processes, so the information we have provided may change. However, we will keep our eye on these developments throughout 2024 and you can keep up to date by visiting Meta’s news page too.







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