Facebook ‘tramples European privacy law’, says Belgian watchdog

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By Larry Banks

Belgium’s privacy watchdog says that Facebook tramples on European privacy laws by tracking people online without consent and dodges questions from national regulators.

Facebook tramples European privacy laws

The Privacy Protection Commission, which is working with counterparts in Germany, The Netherlands, France and Spain, launched the attack after investigating the US social media giant’s practices.

It urged Internet users to install privacy software to protect against Facebook’s tracking, if they have an account with the firm or not.

The Belgian regulator, which has no power to levy fines, highlights the willingness across the 28-member zone to demand that US companies abide by European laws.

“Facebook tramples on European and Belgian privacy laws”, the Commission said after publishing its report analyzing changes that the company made to its policies in January.

It said that Facebook had refused to recognize Belgian and other EU national jurisdictions, insisting it was subject only to the law in Ireland, the site of its European headquarters.

“Facebook has shown itself particularly miserly in giving precise answers”, the watchdog said, adding that the results of the study by a group of researchers were “disconcerting”.

A spokesperson from Facebook questions the Belgians’ authority but said the company would review the recommendations with the Irish data protection commissioner:

“We work hard to make sure people have control over what they share and with whom”.

“Facebook is already regulated in Europe and complies with European data protection law, so the applicability of the CBPL’s efforts is unclear”, the spokesperson said.

Some states in the EU accuse Ireland of being soft on the global firms it wants to attract, in terms of data protection and corporate taxation.

A second report

Facebook Magnifying Glass

The commission plans to publish another report on Facebook in 2015. Sanctions may not be easy to enforce, but a new EU data protection law is expected to be ready this year and would allow up to 5% of annual sales.

The commission said Facebook refused to explain in detail how it uses the data it collects. It also highlight issues with plug-ins such as the Facebook Like button, which it says affects many who do not even have a Facebook account.

Other firms are under fire in Europe over the data they collect. Facebook puts tracking cookies on a device when anyone visits Facebook pages, so it can track the online activities of many non-customers, but it said it’s a bug that it plans to fix.

The commission asked Facebook to stop gathering user data using cookies and plug-ins, except when they have opted in.

European regulators in fact have previously forced Google to change its privacy policies. And a year ago, EU judges upheld a Spanish order that Google must remove links to outdated or incorrect information about people, the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’.

Last month, EU anti-trust regulators made a case against Google and are already probing Apple and Amazon over their low tax deals with Ireland and Luxembourg. The commission is now determining whether to pursue German and French proposals for an EU-wide regulator for the Internet.

Meanwhile, some European politicians, angered by US espionage in Europe, say US firms abuse their power, discourage local startups, and jeopardise privacy laws cherished by Europeans.

President Barack Obama, who is trying to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU, TTIP, says Europe is throwing up protectionist barriers to tech companies.

SOURCE: Reuters.

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