Eight consumer groups from European consumer organisation, the BEUC network, have lodged complaints with their national data protection authorities. The allegations concern Meta’s alleged failure to adhere to GDPR principles on fair processing, data minimisation, and purpose limitation.

The consumer groups argue that Meta lacks a valid legal basis for its colossal data collection efforts on Facebook and Instagram.

The ‘pay-or-consent’ choice has been called a “smokescreen” by the BEUC in a statement, deflecting attention from the illegal processing of data.

This round of complaints follows those filed by the BEUC network in November 2023, addressing Meta’s alleged use of aggressive marketing.

Meta is already under intense scrutiny for the way it handles user data. As well as the recent court ruling, the EU’s flagship antitrust legislation, the Digital Markets Act (DMA), is expected to be enforced from March 2024 with fines of up to 10% of a “gatekeeper’s” global turnover, research company GlobalData explained.

Ursula Pachl, BEUC deputy director general stated, “Meta has repeatedly attempted to justify the extensive commercial surveillance it subjects its users to. Its ‘pay-or-consent’ option is the latest attempt to legitimise its business model.

“However, this choice, presented as an alternative to users, serves as a facade to conceal the continued gathering of sensitive information for monetisation through invasive advertising.”

In May, the tech giant was fined a record $1.3bn by the EU for violating its data privacy rules. 

The Irish Data Protection Commission claimed that Meta had failed to properly protect EU Facebook account data from US spy agencies.

Meta’s practices, deemed illegal by consumer groups, contribute to the surveillance-based advertising system, enabling the tracking of consumers online and the accumulation of vast amounts of personal data.

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The ongoing legal battle between consumer groups and Meta revolves around the tech giant’s attempts to adjust its legal basis for data collection and processing, ultimately seeking user consent as a last resort.

In November of the previous year, Meta introduced a controversial choice for Facebook and Instagram users: pay to access an ad-free service.

The pricing plan came as Meta remains in the target of new EU regulations that could halt it personalising adverts to users without consent. 

BEUC, along with 19 of its members, previously filed a complaint denouncing the misleading and aggressive practices of Meta. The current complaints build on GDPR and data protection law, intensifying the scrutiny on Meta’s data processing practices.