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Belgium takes Facebook to court over privacy breaches and user tracking

The Belgian privacy commission is taking Facebook to court for its alleged "trampling" over Belgian and European privacy law.

The lawsuit will be heard in a Brussels court on Thursday after a report and an opinion published by the Belgian privacy watchdog that detailed Facebook's alleged breaches of European privacy law, including the tracking of non-users and logged out users for advertising purposes.

Facebook treats its users' private lives without respect and that needs tackling, according to Willem Debeuckelaere, president of the Belgian privacy commission, who said at the time of the report that it was "make or break time".

The privacy commission has no power to fine Facebook, but threatened legal action backed by the Belgian prosecution service should the US-owned social network fail to address the report's concerns. That threat has now been carried out.

Imposing recommendations

"It's not because we want start a lawsuit over this, but we can not continue to negotiate through other means," Debeuckelaere told Belgian news DeMorgen which broke the news.

"We want a judge to impose our recommendations. These recommendations are chiefly aimed at protecting internet users who are not Facebook members," he said.

A Facebook spokesperson said: "We were surprised and disappointed that, after the [Belgium privacy commission] had already agreed to meet with us on the 19 June to discuss their recommendations, they took the theatrical action of bringing Facebook Belgium to court on the day beforehand.

They added: "Although we are confident that there is no merit to the [Belgium privacy commission]'s case, we remain happy to work with them in an effort to resolve their concerns, through a dialogue with us at Facebook Ireland and with our regulator, the Irish data protection commissioner."

The outcome of the case could result in similar lawsuits in Europe, should the judge find in the Belgian privacy commission's favour. A Dutch court recently ruled that Facebook's operations in the Netherlands were not responsible for data protection issues, with the responsibility lying with Facebook in Ireland.

Tracking users, non-users and logged out users without consent

According to the report on which the commission is now acting, Facebook has been tracking users on a long-term basis who visit any page - be it a fan page, profile or any other portion of the site that does not require a Facebook account to visit - belonging to the domain.

The privacy commission's opinion published in May made it clear that Facebook should discontinue such tracking and seek explicit consent from users before conducting tracking. Facebook's current measures of seeking consent were deemed insufficient putting it in breach of EU data protection laws.

Facebook said at the time of the report that it was regulated by the Irish data protection commissioner, as it operates within Europe from Ireland, and that it would review the Belgian report and opinion with its Irish regulators.

The social network is facing several battles within Europe over privacy.

The European commission recently warned that EU citizens should close their Facebook accounts if they want to keep their information private from US security services, after finding that current Safe Harbour legislation does not protect citizen's data.

Facebook was also recently ordered by a Vienna court to respond to a class action data privacy lawsuit that was filed against Facebook in Austria by privacy activist and lawyer Max Schrems, which is seeking damages of 500 (397) per plaintiff for alleged data protection violations.

[Fuente: By Samuel Gibbs, The Guardian, London, 15Jun15]

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Privacy and counterintelligence
small logoThis document has been published on 23Sep15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.