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Tags: Privacy, GDPR, Publisher, IAB

Updated: June 25, 2024

In recent years, the funding models for digital services have become a significant topic of discussion, mainly due to privacy concerns. The "Pay or Okay" model has emerged as a critical solution. It offers users the choice between paying for a service or consenting to data collection and advertising. This model aims to balance revenue generation with user privacy protection.


What are the Common Alternatives to the “Pay or Okay” Model?

  • Users can choose between free content with ads and tracking or a paid subscription that removes ads and tracking. Subscribers are also offered discounts on other paid content.
  • Rheinische Post: Offers two separate subscription options: freely available content with ads and tracking or a paid RP+ subscription that includes additional content and fewer ads.
  • Meta (Facebook and Instagram): Meta has introduced paid subscriptions in the European Economic Area. Users can continue using the service with ads (consent) or pay for a subscription that removes ads and tracking.

Similar "Pay or Okay" models have been observed in the United States, especially among larger companies. For example, The New York Times and YouTube Premium offer paid subscriptions that allow users to avoid ads and data sharing. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is similar to the GDPR and requires companies to obtain user consent for data collection. These regulations have led US companies to adapt their data practices to meet stricter privacy and transparency requirements, aiming to increase consumer trust in digital services.


Benefits and Challenges of the "Pay or Okay" Model

  • Benefits: The model provides a more transparent way of handling user data, which can increase trust in companies. Users can decide how to use and fund the service, giving them more freedom and control over their data.
  • Challenges: Subscription fees can be a barrier for some users, limiting access to essential services and content. Even if consent is given, the ethical implications of data collection remain a concern. Companies must ensure that user data is handled responsibly. Smaller companies may struggle to implement the model effectively, as they may not have the resources to offer paid and free options. The model has also been criticised for significantly distorting consent rates and influencing user choices that are far from genuinely “freely given” consent.

What Do Regulatory Authorities Say About the "Pay or Okay" Model?

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) confirmed in July 2023 that users can be offered an option that does not involve data processing in exchange for a reasonable fee. This decision, along with statements from the German Data Protection Conference (DSK) and the French Data Protection Authority (CNIL), confirms the legality of the "Pay or Okay" model under certain conditions. These conditions include a clear option to pay for the service or consent to data collection and advertising. Additionally, the model must be transparent and comply with data protection legislation requirements, such as the GDPR's stipulations on freely given consent and data minimisation.

EDPB Opinion and Its Impact: In April 2024, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) issued an opinion on the "Pay or Okay" model used by major online platforms. The EDPB stated that Meta cannot use the 'Pay or Okay' model for processing personal data for advertising purposes in the EU because it undermines the concept of 'freely given consent.' This opinion has been a precursor to broader discussions about the legality of the 'Pay or Okay' model.

IAB Europe Criticism: IAB Europe criticised the EDPB's stance as inconsistent with EU Court jurisprudence and misrepresenting personalised advertising and the "Pay or Okay" model. The EDPB was criticised for assuming that personalised advertising is incompatible with GDPR's data minimisation and fairness principles and suggesting that data protection rights could become a premium service. Additionally, the EDPB proposed that service providers offer users the option to use the service for free without behavioural advertising to ensure proper consent. This proposal was seen as impractical, potentially forcing companies to operate at a loss and ignoring the balance between data protection rights and business freedom. IAB Europe calls for public consultation to develop more balanced guidelines, ensuring stakeholders' concerns are considered.

ICO's Views: The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has also shared its views on the "Pay or Okay" model. The ICO emphasised that the model must comply with GDPR principles, particularly the requirement for consent. They stressed that consent must be voluntary, informed, and unambiguous. Users must be offered a genuine choice without being pressured to pay for the service or accept data collection and advertising. The ICO also noted that providing choices to users should not impose unreasonable barriers or financial burdens that could affect consent.

European Commission: In July 2024, the European Commission shared preliminary findings that Meta's "Pay or Okay" model does not meet the requirements of the Digital Markets Act (DMA). According to the Commission, the model forces users to consent to combining their data without offering a less personalised but equivalent alternative. This violates the DMA regulations as Meta does not provide users with the possibility of genuinely free consent. The Commission continues its investigations and may require Meta to amend its practices or face significant fines.


Future Prospects of the "Pay or Okay" Model

The "Pay or Okay" model is expected to become more widespread as companies balance revenue generation with ethical data practices to ensure user privacy. Standard evaluation criteria and transparency are essential to guarantee the model's legality and ensure its consistent application to all digital services. The "Pay or Okay" model is expected to evolve to meet the growing demands of legislation and consumers in Europe and the United States. In the future, the model could serve as an example of how the digital economy can balance financial goals and user privacy while promoting innovation and better user experiences.

Further Information on the "Pay or Okay" Model: The Federal Association of the Digital Economy's (BVDW) market forecast provides more information. The review broadly examines different models, their legality from various perspectives, and the positions of other stakeholders. It also provides an overview of future developments. The association aims to participate in the current discussion by the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) on ongoing developments.

Suvi Leino
By: Suvi Leino

Responsible for marketing and communications at Relevant Digital.


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