Belgian watchdog accuses Facebook of disobeying European data-protection laws

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Belgian Privacy Protection Commission has accused Facebook of not complying with the European data-protection laws as it still continues to track people online without their consent.

“Facebook tramples on European and Belgian privacy laws”, Belgium’s Privacy Protection Commission said in a statement after publishing a report analyzing changes that the social networking giant made to its privacy policies in January.

The Privacy Protection Commission alleges that Facebook has avoided questions from national regulators about how it collected data and that the social networking giant did not recognize the Belgian and other EU national jurisdictions and claimed to adhere only to the laws 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 its study were “disconcerting”.

According to a study commissioned by the Belgian Privacy Commission (BPC), published last month, the social networking giant tracks web movements of all the visitors to its site without their consent, whether or not they are logged in to Facebook or are not the registered users of the site or have opted out, through use of social plugins, primarily the ‘Like’ button.

As per the study report, Facebook places tracking cookies on users’ computers if they visit any page on the facebook.com domain, including fan pages or other pages that do not require a Facebook account to visit. As a result when a user visits a third-party site that carries one of Facebook’s social plug-ins, it detects and sends the tracking cookies back to Facebook.

The Belgian regulator has urged internet users to install privacy software to safeguard themselves from Facebook’s tracking systems.

Clarifying Facebook’s stand on the issue, a spokesperson said “As we expressed to the [Belgian Privacy Commission] in person when we met, there is nothing more important to us than the privacy of our users and 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 [Belgian Privacy Commission’s] efforts are unclear.

“But we will of course review the recommendations when we receive them with our European regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.”

The Belgian commission said it would publish another report on Facebook’s policies sometime later this year.