Belgium’s Privacy Commission has accused the social network of illegal tracking and is taking the company to court. The commission previously published a report based on applicable law and the use of social plugins, in which it accused Facebook of ignoring privacy laws but said that it couldn’t fine the company. Instead, the Privacy Commission threatened Facebook with legal action if it didn’t change its policies following the report.
The case against has been heard this week in court but no details have yet been released. The commission had hoped that a judge would be able to force Facebook to follow the recommendations set out in the report.
The Commission is mainly concerned with the way the social network “secretly tracks members but also non-members” and processes the data. One of the biggest problems that the Belgian watchdog has with the way the site operates is that people who specifically opt out of being tracked are still tracked, meaning that data is stored about what they look at on the internet without them knowing. Despite the evidence against the company, Facebook has said that the proceedings were unexpected and that they are also theatrical.
A spokesperson for the company has been noted as saying that Facebook was “surprised and disappointed” that the commission took the “theatrical action” of bringing Facebook Belgium to court on the day before the commission was due to meet with the company. The spokesperson went on to say “although we are confident that there is no merit to the commission’s case, we remain happy to work with them in an effort to resolve their concerns, through a dialog with Facebook Ireland and with our regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner”.
Facebook has previously voiced its concerns over being regulated by individual commissions from European countries and instead says it should be regulated by Ireland’s information commission in order to ensure that it is complying with European data protection law. it has also said it is already regulated in Europe and complies with applicable laws, so the CBPL (the Belgian comission) is effectively wasting its time with its report. A spokesperson went on to say “But we will of course review the recommendations when we receive them with our European regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner”.
Willem Bebeuckelaere, president of the Belgian privacy commission, said at the time of the report that the lack of respect for Facebook user’s private lives and for European privacy law needs tackling, in a “make or break” situation. The EU takes the privacy of its citizens seriously, and has also been cracking down on other large US companies which it feels are in breach of laws or guidelines within Europe which may not exist in the US. Debeuckelaere has said that the commission can’t continue to negotiate and that it wants a judge to impose the recommendations which are aimed at protecting citizens who are not Facebook members.
There has been talk over whether Facebook in the US is responsible for its actions in Europe, or whether responsibility lies with Facebook Ireland. A court in Holland has recently ruled that it is Facebook Ireland who is responsible for the company’s operations in the Netherlands. If the judge finds in favour of the Belgian privacy commission in the upcoming court case, then there may be further lawsuits to come across Europe.
Ironically, Facebook was one of the companies that pushed the US government for reform over National Security Agency practices which would reduce the amount of internet ‘spying’ the agency is able to do upon citizens and force it to be more transparent about the personal data it requests from technology companies. But the company itself is facing several different legal battles over European privacy laws. Not only has the social network been accused of tracking members and non-members without their consent, the European commission has found that Safe Harbour legislation does not protect European citizens data when being sent back to the US in the hands of Facebook. In addition, a class action data privacy lawsuit has been filed against Facebook in Austria, prompting a Viennese court to order Facebook to respond to lawyer and privacy activist Max Schrems who is seeking €500 per person affected by data privacy infringements.