Belgium Agency Takes Facebook to Court over Privacy Concerns

Associated Press
Associated Press

A Belgian consumer protection agency launched a lawsuit against Facebook for alleged violations of Belgian and European Union laws and regulations.

Earlier this year, the Data Protection Agency (DPA) released a critical report of a number of Facebook’s policies, mostly pertaining to the use of users’ data and what the DPA calls a failure to receive valid consent.

Specifically, the DPA takes issue with the way Facebook uses “cookies” to gather information about users and then sells that information to advertisers. Because Facebook’s “like” and “share” options are embedded on so many sites across the Web, Belgian authorities say it can effectively gather information on even users who do not have a Facebook account.

At the time of the earlier report, the DPA told Facebook to increase privacy measures, or face legal action. Now, it seems that the Belgian government is following through on its threat.

“We want a judge to impose our recommendations … chiefly aimed at protecting Internet users who are not Facebook members,” the DPA’s head, Willem Debeuckelaere, told media as the story broke.

Facebook spokesmen said they were “shocked” and “surprised” with the watchdog agency’s decision to sue Facebook, especially as the company scheduled a meeting with top regulators for June 19 to discuss the privacy issues which are causing the dispute.

“Although we are confident that there is no merit to the case, we remain happy to work with [the DPA] in an effort to resolve their concerns, through Facebook Ireland and with our regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner,” the statement continued.

Facebook’s European headquarters are in Ireland, and lawyers for the social media giant claim that all of Facebook’s privacy policies are in line with Irish regulations. European law requires Internet companies to work with local regulations, but there is no framework for adhering to more stringent data laws found elsewhere on the continent, such as in Belgium.

Representatives from Facebook also pointed out that many other websites use cookies for targeted advertising and that the practice is legal. There also exists a framework for users to opt out of cookie-based advertising, called the European Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance, or EDAA.

This is the first time a European DPA has taken Facebook to court, although there is a class action lawsuit currently ongoing in Vienna, Austria.