Ad-Free is not Tracking-Free, RE: Meta ad-free subscription

Meta (Facebook) has noted that it will offer EU residents the option to have an “ad-free” version of Facebook and Instagram. According to them, in order to comply with the EU regulation, the offer of either an ad-supported, free, tier of the social media service alongside a paid version with no ads, would construe as sufficient “consent” to comply with EU data protection laws, including the Digital Markets Act.

The choice was clear: pay a small fee for an ad-free version, or provide us with the option to generate revenue based on your personal data. Reading reports, it seems strange. Facebook’s average revenue per user is similar to the sum charged in the subscription model, but in the EU the sum is a bit higher, around $15 per user. So charging EUR10 per user is relevant and understandable.

The problem, of course, is that the Ad-Free version is not “Tracking Free”.

What do I mean? Have a look at Meta’s statement: “In November, we will be offering people who use Facebook or Instagram and reside in these regions the choice to continue using these personalised services for free with ads, or subscribe to stop seeing ads. While people are subscribed, their information will not be used for ads“.

This does not mean that they do not collect information, and without a specific statement saying so (such as an updated Privacy Policy) we can assume that Meta would keep on collecting the data. This means that once people stop paying for the Ad-Free version, their data would be free to grab by advertisers.

It also means that the tracking functions inside Meta’s services, such as Facebook and Instagram, are still to be used for internal recommendations. Meaning, right: Facebook will not show Ads. But they will use your data for internal improvement of the services, for development and for increasing your engagement. You will not have a privacy-oriented social network, it’s just the same as if you paid Facebook to show yourself ads about you.

The tracking portion of Meta’s services is what we fear. It is what allowed the Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, and it is what allowed the massive data breach back in 2018.

As a reminder: Meta has its claws in every page that runs a Facebook pixel campaign, embedded an Instagram post or just allowed it to track. It also runs on your mobile phone collecting your location and other data. They know who are the people you engage with via WhatsApp and they know what businesses you buy from, as you interact with them over WhatsApp for business. This is a data-monster.

So even if the data would not be used to “show” ads, it doesn’t mean it won’t be used otherwise, nor does it mean that the data won’t be later hacked and dumped. Facebook had a terrible history of data protection, not just the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but a full list of dozens of scandals.

I would gladly pay for a service that does not track me. A private, encrypted, social network that does not use my data against me is a great service. However, as it seems right now, this service is just “pay us not to run ads, but we’ll keep tracking you”.

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