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Meta introduces subscription fees for ad-free Facebook and Instagram in Europe. What does it mean for Law Firms?

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Meta introduces subscription fees for ad-free Facebook and Instagram in Europe in response to EU data regulations, ask us anything, and a round-up of the latest top news.

Note: I'm changing up the structure of our newsletter. We'll now pick one big story and show you how to discuss it in applications and interviews using our full-proof S.T.E.P. method (Summary, Trends, Effects on Law Firms, and Position in the market (i.e. strategies law firms should adopt in light of the news). Your feedback is super appreciated, let us know what you think at the bottom of the newsletter.

1. Summary

Meta has decided to introduce a subscription-based model for Facebook and Instagram in Europe. Why? Well it all comes down to the EU and how they've been scrutinizing how social media moguls like Meta handle user data.

Starting this November, European users can opt for an ad-free social media experience at €9.99 per month on the web, or €12.99 on mobile platforms. Picture it like choosing between a movie with no ads or one with a few product placements. This is Meta's response to the EU Court of Justice's verdict that hinted: "Hey, maybe offer an alternative for those not keen on sharing their data, even if it means charging them."

But Meta's still rooting for its ad-supported model, while respecting the new EU regulations. The move highlights how tech giants are tweaking their European products to dodge hefty fines and adhere to new rules. Plus Meta's not introducing "Threads" in the EU due to the EU’s Digital Markets Act (probably thought it was too much hassle).

Worth Noting:

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty, there are two things you need-to-know that prompted Meta's big shift to subscriptions.

  1. The EU Court Judgement: "Pay or Play"
    In a recent case, the EU Court of Justice declared that companies should ponder offering an alternative service for users who aren't keen on being data-goldmines for advertisers. And if that means charging them, so be it. The core essence? Respect users' data privacy. If they don't want their life's story sold to the highest bidder, maybe offer them an alternative, even if it means a few euros from their pocket.
  2. The Digital Markets Act (DMA)
    The DMA is all about keeping big tech in check. This act prohibits major tech companies from sharing data between services. Think of it as having all your favourite games but not being allowed to play with them together. For Meta, this means rethinking how it operates its suite of apps and services. They can't just freely exchange data between WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook, making their ad-targeting less laser-focused. It's a game-changer, pushing companies to be more innovative in their approach.

1. Say Hello to Netflix-ified Social Media:
One of the most significant takeaways from Meta's move is the potential paradigm shift from ad-revenue models to subscription-based ones in the tech world. Historically, tech giants have heavily relied on advertising revenues, leveraging the vast amount of data they collect. However, with increasing regulatory pressures, especially from regions like the EU, which champion data privacy, the free-for-data model is under scrutiny. Think of it as the Netflix of social media - you pay to binge without ads. This trend might be the beginning of a new era where social media isn't "free" as we know it. This isn't an isolated incident with Meta; TikTok and Snapchat are considering similar moves and X has already led the way on subscription services.

2. Europe's Data Privacy Tango with Big Tech:
Europe's always been that strict parent when it comes to data privacy, laying down the law (literally) with things like GDPR. Beyond just data privacy, the EU's Digital Markets Act and Data Governance Act indicate an environment where tech companies will face a tighter leash, not just on data but also on competitive practices and inter-service data sharing. This trend, if it gains global traction, could significantly alter the tech landscape. We might see tech giants becoming more region-specific in their offerings or even a slowdown in the launch of innovative products due to the fear of non-compliance.

3. The Domino Effect - From Europe to Everywhere:
Ever noticed how one celebrity wears a bizarre fashion trend, and suddenly it's everywhere? That's Europe for you in the tech world. When Europe sets a trend (like data privacy laws), the world often follows suit. There's a possibility that if the subscription model gains traction in Europe, it might be tested in other markets, even if they don't have similar data protection regulations. This could be due to the simplicity of having a unified business model or because of user demand.

3. Effects on Law Firms

1. Data Protection and Privacy:

Given Meta's decision to introduce subscription fees as a counter to EU data regulations, law firms with strong data protection and privacy departments are in for busy days.

  • Advisory on Compliance: As Meta tweaks its business model, companies across the board will look for advice on the EU's data protection regulations. Lawyers will be swamped with requests to review data collection practices, ensuring they're in line with GDPR and any subsequent legislation.
  • Data Breach Litigation: With a more pronounced focus on user data, breaches (or even perceived breaches) can lead to extensive legal battles. Lawyers will be on the front lines, defending clients against claims or advising on potential vulnerabilities in their data handling processes.
  • Drafting and Reviewing Consent Forms: Given the court's emphasis on user consent for data collection, lawyers will be instrumental in drafting robust, bulletproof consent forms for online platforms, ensuring they're both legally sound and user-friendly.

2. Competition and Antitrust Law:

The EU’s Digital Markets Act is a clear signal that regulators are watching market dynamics closely, especially concerning big tech. Law firms with expertise in competition law will likely see a rise in consultations.

  • Market Dominance Consultation: As tech giants adapt to European regulations, their market strategies will change. Lawyers will advise on potential antitrust implications, ensuring that new business models don't inadvertently breach competition laws.
  • Merger and Acquisition Oversight: If these changes result in tech companies considering mergers or acquisitions to strengthen their position, lawyers will be at the helm, ensuring such moves are compliant with EU competition laws.
  • Defence Against Anti-Competition Allegations: Given the changing landscape, allegations of anti-competitive behaviour might arise. Lawyers will be tasked with defending clients against such claims or seeking settlements where appropriate.

3. Contract Law:

  • Subscription Agreement Drafting: With the introduction of subscription models, lawyers will be in high demand to draft, review, and refine these agreements, ensuring they're both legally solid and fair to consumers.
  • Advisory on Consumer Rights: With the shift to subscription models, ensuring that consumers' rights are upheld will be paramount. Lawyers will be advising companies on how to offer their services without breaching any consumer protection standards set by the EU.
  • Dispute Resolution: With new subscription models, there's potential for increased disputes over billing, services provided, or contract interpretation. Lawyers will be pivotal in resolving such disputes, either through mediation or litigation.

4. Tech Regulatory and Digital Law:

  • Advisory on Tech Regulations: Given the EU's Digital Markets Act and its implications for major tech companies, lawyers specialising in this niche will be invaluable. They'll be advising clients on the nuances of these regulations, ensuring platforms are compliant and avoid hefty penalties.
  • Platform Interoperability Consultations: The EU's push for tech giants to ensure interoperability can lead to a myriad of legal challenges. Lawyers will be consulted to navigate these waters, ensuring platforms can cooperate without breaching intellectual property or trade secrets.
  • Digital Services Act (DSA) Compliance: The DSA will regulate online content in the EU. Lawyers will be instrumental in advising platforms on how to monitor, report, and remove content, ensuring they toe the line between regulation compliance and freedom of expression.

4. Position

3 Key Strategies for Law Firms Based on Trend Analysis

1. Bolstering Data Protection and Privacy Expertise:

  • Invest in GDPR Training: Given the EU's staunch stance on data protection, law firms must ensure that their teams are well-versed in every nuance of GDPR. Regular training sessions, seminars, and workshops can keep lawyers updated, making them invaluable assets for clients navigating the data protection maze.
  • Offer Data Compliance Audits: With the spotlight on data collection and usage, law firms should partner with tech experts to offer comprehensive data compliance audits. This proactive approach can identify vulnerabilities, ensuring clients are always a step ahead of potential regulatory actions.
  • Stay Ahead with Client Alerts: The data protection landscape is ever-evolving. Law firms should offer a dedicated client alert service, providing real-time updates on any significant legal changes. This ensures that clients are never caught off-guard and can adapt their strategies swiftly.

2. Regulatory Challenges:

  • Regulatory Forecasting: Given the EU's proactive stance on tech regulations, law firms should establish a dedicated team that anticipates future regulatory shifts. This proactive approach allows clients to adapt in advance, rather than scramble when new rules are enacted.
  • Litigation Preparedness: With new regulations come new legal challenges. Law firms should gear up for potential litigation, ensuring they have the expertise to defend or challenge regulatory decisions on behalf of their clients.

3. Expanding Contract and Advertising Law Services:

  • Subscription Model Legal Packs: As more companies consider adopting subscription models, law firms should offer tailored legal packs. These would cover everything from drafting subscription agreements to advising on billing disputes, providing an all-in-one solution. This will need to keep check with the proposed updates in consumer law for subscription contracts under the UK's Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.
  • Stay Updated on Ad Regulations: Advertising regulations, especially in the digital realm, are continuously changing. Law firms need a dedicated team to stay updated on these changes, ensuring that clients' marketing strategies are always compliant. Hosting seminars on the latest ad regulations can position the law firm as a thought leader in this space, attracting more clients.


Today we added the following cases and deals on ZipTracker:

  • Reed smith advises on €140 million negligence claim against Clifford Chance
  • Herbert Smith Freehills leads on wind turbine dispute
  • Baker McKenzie and Clifford Chance act on Hitachi mega-deal

🙋‍♀️ Your questions, answered.

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Quick Hits

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  • HSBC's Financial Report: HSBC greenlights an extra $3bn in share buybacks, totaling $7bn this year. Q3 pre-tax profits hit $7.7bn, albeit short of the projected $8.1bn, with inflation driving up tech and operational costs.

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