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Belgium sues Facebook for privacy breaches, tracking non-members

Belgium sues Facebook for privacy breaches, tracking non-members
The Belgian national privacy watchdog is taking Facebook to court over its privacy policy. The social network is being criticized for its tracking systems that it applies to both members and non-members.

Belgium’s Commission for the Protection of Privacy claims that Facebook is breaking Belgian, as well as European privacy laws. That is the result of a special investigation conducted by the commission. The case will be tried in Brussels on Thursday.

“Facebook treats its users’ private lives without respect and that needs tackling,” Willem Debeuckelaere, president of the watchdog, says. The commission has no power to punish Facebook but hopes a court ruling will do something about the perceived privacy breaches.

“It’s not because we want start a lawsuit over this, but we cannot continue to negotiate through other means,” Debeuckelaere said, DeMorgen news agency reports. “We want a judge to impose our recommendations. These recommendations are chiefly aimed at protecting internet users who are not Facebook members,” he added.

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The social network is accused of a number of privacy breaches. It is believed to track web browsing of all visitors, including those who specifically switched tracking functions off and those who do not even have an account. The commission claims that Facebook can surveil computers without people’s consent even when they are logged-out or had not registered as members in the first place.

That is possible with the help of Cookies – small files that store the information about user’s activities in Internet. The files are normally used for remembering users’ preferences on previously visited websites, so that you do not have to select your preferred language or re-enter your password every time you visit.

The investigation claims that Facebook cookies are installed on computers when people visit sites with Facebook plug-ins, even if they do not interact with them. This means that, for example, Facebook is watching every reader of this article through that “like” button at the bottom.

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Facebook says the decision to take the case to court is a show. “We were surprised and disappointed that, after it (the commission) had already agreed to meet with us on the 19 June to discuss their recommendations, they took the theatrical action of bringing Facebook to court on the day beforehand,” said a spokesperson for the social network.

That is not the first time Europeans cross Facebook over privacy policies. Max Schrems, a user from Austria, has taken his case all the way to EU’s Court of Justice. Proceedings are underway in that case. There is also a website called “Europe versus Facebook” which fights privacy breaches by the social network.

According to European laws cookies cannot be installed on users’ computers without people’s consent, and many websites prompt first-time visitors to allow or refuse their use of cookies.