How much is privacy worth? Is a yearly subscription for a VPN justified? Is it better to pay with your time, changing the privacy settings on every website you visit? What is a fair price to stop data about who you are and how you behave being used to inform ads? Different companies have different answers. Yahoo offers ad-free email for $5 per month; for ad-free music, Spotify charges double that. To be free from ads on YouTube, it’s $13.99, even more.
This month, for the first time, Meta will also put a monthly price on privacy. Right now for people in Europe that price is €9.99 ($10.50), or €12.99 if they sign up on their phones.
This is a major change for Meta, a company that has long lauded the benefits of an ad-supported internet, arguing that it means everyone gets the same service, however much money they might have. But privacy regulators in Europe are circling. A series of fines and legal cases are backing the company into a corner, with regulators arguing it needs to change the way it gets users to consent to behavioral advertising. Meta’s latest response? If people don’t like these ads, they can pay to opt out.
Meta will roll out the new ad-free subscription option in the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland on an unspecified date in November. “We are confident that our product solution is compliant with evolving legal requirements in the EU,” says company spokesperson Al Tolan. The subscription option will only be available to adults, while the company’s platforms will pause ads for people under 18.
But the plan has been met with dismay and threats of even more legal action in Europe, where regulators and privacy activists argue this is just Meta’s latest attempt to resist the real change necessary to make its products compliant with European privacy law. “Meta is desperately trying to find solutions to continue the current status quo,” says Tobias Judin, spokesperson for Norway’s privacy watchdog, Datatilsynet.
For years, European courts have argued that Meta cannot use personal data for advertising unless the company gets free and explicit—yes or no—consent from the people who use its services. In July, Norway, which is not a member of the EU but is a member of the European Economic Area, went further, branding the way Meta carries out behavioral advertising as illegal and imposing a ban. The country then started fining Meta $100,000 for every day it did not comply. Today, that fine stands at over $7 million.