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Facebook Spies On Belgians, Gets Sued

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

In June’ 2015, Belgian Privacy Commission (BPC) filed a lawsuit against Facebook to protest the company’s data collection practices as well as recent updates to its privacy policy. The privacy group took this action after reports emerged that the social networking giant was secretly tracking browsing behavior of its users as well as non-users via third party plugins and tracking cookies. Facebook is already facing many legal challenges in Europe (most notably in Ireland) so it is crystal clear that users, authorities as well as civil liberty groups are getting increasingly suspicious about the company’s indiscriminate data collection and spying practices.

BPC sprang into action after it came to their attention Facebook is not only tracking its users but also the online activities of millions of other people via social media plugins. In the lawsuit, the privacy group alleged that the social company is secretly installing cookie files on all machines (computers as well as mobile devices) which happen to visit its site directly or use any third party plugin that can connect to Facebook. These cookie files can then be used to monitor a person’s interests and browsing preferences. Considering that Facebook doesn’t ask for permission before dropping these cookies, it can be safely said that the company is indeed spying on millions without their knowledge.

Facebook, in its defense, said that European privacy laws are applicable only to its Irish operations since the company’s European headquarters are located over there. The company also said that tracking cookies provide an enhanced security mechanism for its users although it refused to comment on why it is spying even on non-users without their consent. Facebook even said that the data collected via datr cookies (which are used by the company) cannot identify an individual but only a machine or more specifically a browser. The company even argued that if it is blocked from using cookies in Belgium, it would lose the ability to track the number of people visiting its site and would also use complex algorithms and verification processes to validate user credentials.

Rejecting Facebook’s assertions, the court said that the company doesn’t really have to install a cookie or collect data every time someone visited its website. The court even thrashed the argument that the data being collected by the company was not personal data. Considering that the company was not taking consent from Belgian people before using those cookies, the judge determined that Facebook’s actions were indeed a violation of the country’s Data Protection laws.

While delivering the judgment, the court also directed Facebook to stop tracking non-users or face stiff fines (as much as $268,000 a day). In response, the company decided to block non-users from accessing its website. The company also said that it would continue to use cookies for all Belgian Facebook users since it is an important security measure. While the Belgian court’s verdict isn’t necessarily a good news for businesses and marketing companies that rely on Facebook traffic, it would definitely help people protect their privacy on the internet.

April 6, 2016

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