Facebook rides roughshod over privacy laws

Facebook rides roughshod over privacy laws

Facebook and privacy are not words that generally belong in the same sentence, but a Belgian watchdog has expressed surprise at just how little regard for European law the social network shows. The Privacy Protection Commission says "Facebook tramples on European and Belgian privacy laws", and warns users to take action.

Mark Zuckerberg's site is accused to tracking users even if they are not logged into a Facebook account, and sidestepping questions from European regulators. Although the Privacy Protection Commission is not able to impose fines for failure to abide by European law, it is in a position to offer advice -- and the advice to people is to use software to block Facebook's tracking regardless of whether they use the site or not.

The watchdog's report followed an investigation into Facebook's practices, and led to strongly worded criticism of the company. The use of cookies to track people through social plugins (Like and sharing buttons, for instance) gave particular cause for concern, resulting in the Commission calling for an end to the practice as well as the recommendation that people should use privacy software.

With the potential to use tracking information to identify people and target them with advertising, the monetization of even non-Facebook users is frowned upon. A key European law states that sites must gain explicit permission from users before cookies are employed, but this is something that Facebook fails to do.

Facebook also stands accused of failing to comply with the Privacy Protection Commission's investigations, but the company has questioned the watchdog's authority. The Commission would be able to recommend that Facebook is prosecuted for its activities, but would not be able to action this itself. Facebook has said that any tracking of non-users is the result of a bug, but this has done little to calm privacy concerns.

The Privacy Protection Commission is due to publish another report later in the year, and it will be interesting to see whether Facebook has acted on any of the suggestions by then.

Photo credit: dolphfyn / Shutterstock

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