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Facebook and Instagram: Facebook group Meta violates German law with paid subscriptions

The online group Meta violated provisions of German consumer protection law when introducing an ad-free version of the Facebook and Instagram networks. This was determined by the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court. The injunction brought by the North Rhine-Westphalia Consumer Center concerned the design of the order button with which a subscription order is completed. The judgment is now legally binding.

According to the German Civil Code (BGB), order buttons must clearly indicate an obligation to pay. This was also previously decided by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2022. According to this, consumers must expressly confirm when placing an order that it is associated with a payment obligation.

Labeling of the order button needs to be changed

The button must then contain the wording “order with payment” or another clear text. But Meta had only labeled the order button “Subscribe”. In the apps on smartphones, the order button was labeled “Proceed to payment”.

The consumer advice center saw this as a violation of consumer protection law because the order buttons did not adequately indicate that a paid subscription contract would be concluded upon confirmation. The Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court granted the application. The wording “subscribe” is not enough because there are also free subscriptions. The fact that the cost of the subscription is clearly stated before and during the ordering process is irrelevant. Only the text on the button is decisive.

According to the ruling, the order button in the apps “Proceed to payment” also does not meet the legal consumer protection requirements. There is, however, no indication that there is a charge here. However, it is not clear to the consumer that he is already concluding a contract by pressing this button and is not simply being redirected to another page to provide his data and conclude a binding contract.

Consumer advice center NRW also wants to take action against the “pay-or-consent” model

The North Rhine-Westphalia consumer advice center welcomed the judge’s ruling. “Even a globally active company like Meta has to adhere to European and German consumer protection regulations,” said the consumer advice center’s board member, Wolfgang Schuldzinski.

According to consumer advocates, Meta is also violating data protection law by introducing the pay-or-consent model (pay or agree to advertising). For free but advertising-financed use, the provider does not obtain effective consent to the use of personal data for advertising purposes. According to the information, the data protection issues are the subject of further proceedings by the North Rhine-Westphalia Consumer Center against Meta.

Meta offers an ad-free version of the network for customers in Germany, among others. The price for Facebook without advertising is 9.99 euros per month. The subscription to Instagram costs 12.99 euros. Anyone who accepts personalized ads can continue to use the networks free of charge.

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