Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT)

Facebook Must Stop Tracking Non-Users

13 Nov 2015

3 min read

A Belgian court has ruled that Facebook has 48 hours to stop tracking people in Belgium who are not members of its social network. This issue arose as Facebook has been tracking persons who are not members of the social network.

Facebook has said that it intends on appealing the decision and reacted by saying that the court order relates to a cookie which, it has used for five years.

The above-mentioned cookie is a simple text file that tracks a number of user data activities.  Researchers have found that non-members who visit any page that falls under the domain would have the mentioned cookie which, has a two year lifespan installed on their browser.

In this respect, the Belgian court has ruled that Facebook needs consent in order to collect and gather such information, on the basis that Belgian law states that such information is personal data which, Facebook can only use of the internet user expressly gives his consent.

If Facebook fails to comply with the court’s order, it could face a fine of EUR250,000 per day.

One may ask how the issue is just cropping up if Facebook has been using the mentioned functionality for five years.  In fact, the Belgian privacy commission commissioned a report from the University of Leuven and Brussels and concluded that tracking non-users was in breach of EU law.  The commission handed their findings to the Belgian authorities who, failed to come to an agreement with Facebook and thus the matter was taken to Court.

The Court agreed with the commission’s submissions that the information collected by the social network was personal data and Facebook could only use it if the internet user expressly gives his consent.

Facebook’s head of security has said that the cookie was associated only with browsers, not individual people, and thus does not contain any personal information.

Privacy issues are growing and it is unclear how the big tech companies will deal with the increasing scrutiny from European Privacy Commissioners.

In October, an Austrian student won a court battle over data privacy, when the European Court of Justice held that there needs to be more scrutiny as to the way US companies handle European users’ data.  Further to this, a court in Austria is considering whether it should bring an action against Facebook for violating privacy laws in its country.

The battle between privacy campaigners and the tech companies is far from over.

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