Belgian privacy watchdog sues Facebook

16 Jun 2015

Belgium’s data protection watchdog has said it is suing Facebook, following a long-running, slow-moving dispute between the social media giant and concerned privacy activists throughout Europe.

The independent body’s move is the latest step in a concerted, coordinated challenge – regulators in France, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany are following similar paths –and seemingly comes after the lack of progress from other quarters became too much.

The dispute concerns how Facebook collects and uses the personal data of EU citizens, and includes claims that the company tracks both users and non-users, which could mean that those who merely land on a Facebook page by mistake, having never used the service, are subsequently tracked.

If true, that’s simply madness, but Facebook defended its position by arguing that this claim made by the Belgian watchdog was an anomaly that was subsequently fixed.

Facebook deny the claims

“We don’t,” said Facebook back in April in a blogpost defending the company’s position and disputing numerous claims from the Belgian watchdog.

“And this is not our practice. However, the researchers did find a bug that may have sent cookies to some people when they weren’t on Facebook. This was not our intention – a fix for this is already under way.”

Facebook has come out in detail to defend its position, but that hasn’t cleared up these grievances.

EU privacy policy to blame?

Facebook says it is subject only to law in Ireland, the site of its European headquarters, although some EU members have accused Dublin of being soft on multinational firms.

“National regulators are trying to assert their importance, at a time when things are supposed to be shifting toward a pan-European model,” said one Us tech-firm executive to the Wall Street Journal. “You can’t have 28 different regulators trying to redesign your service.”

That could all change, following yesterday’s draft legislation on a unified EU data protection law.

Belgium image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic