Facebook to fight Belgian ban on tracking its users and non-users

Belgium's privacy watchdog argues Facebook "still violates the fundamental rights of millions of residents of Belgium".
Belgium's privacy watchdog argues Facebook "still violates the fundamental rights of millions of residents of Belgium".PHOTO: AFP

LUXEMBOURG (BLOOMBERG) - Facebook Inc is attacking a Belgian court order forcing it to stop tracking local users' surfing habits, including those of millions who aren't signed up to the social network.

The US tech giant will come face to face with the Belgian data protection authority in a Brussels appeals court for a two-day hearing starting on Wednesday (March 27).

The company will challenge the 2018 court order and the threat of a daily fine of 250,000 euros (S$381,702.50) should it fail to comply.

Armed with new powers since the introduction of stronger European Union data protection rules, Belgium's privacy watchdog argues Facebook "still violates the fundamental rights of millions of residents of Belgium".

The Brussels Court of First Instance in February 2018 ruled that Facebook doesn't provide people with enough information about how and why it collects data on their web use, or what it does with the information.

"Facebook then uses that information to profile your surfing behaviour and uses that profile to show you targeted advertising, such as advertising about products and services from commercial companies, messages from political parties, etc," the Belgian regulator said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday.

Facebook is facing increasing scrutiny in Europe as privacy authorities are looking to increase the level of fines they issue under the EU's new General Data Protection Regulation, which allow penalties as large as 4 per cent of a company's annual revenue.

 
 

Anti-trust regulators too have been probing the social network, with Germany's Federal Cartel Office last month ordering Facebook to overhaul how it tracks its users' Internet browsing and smartphone apps in the first case to combine privacy with competition enforcement.

Belgium's data protection authority last year won the court's backing for its attack against Facebook's use of cookies, social plug-ins - the "like" or "share" buttons - and tracking technologies that are invisible to the naked eye to collect data on people's behaviour during their visits to other sites.

Facebook spokespeople didn't immediately respond to e-mails and calls seeking comment.

In reaction to last year's ruling, the company said it had "worked hard to help people understand how we use cookies to keep Facebook secure and show them relevant content" and that the cookies and that the tracking technologies it uses "are industry standard".