The European Court in Belgium has claimed that Facebook is violating their users’ sexual privacy. The free content ad network could now find itself facing official court proceedings. Here, it will have to face allegations that it is violating data protection laws that were created in the EU when Zuckerberg himself was just 11 years old.
The privacy watchdog in Belgium has posed questions with Facebook in relation to how it tracks both users and non-users. The watchdog claims that the tactics are in direct breach of EU laws.
The watchdog, known as the CPVP (Commission de Protection de la Vie Privee or the Commission of Protection of Privacy), is said to have been horrified by the tactics Facebook uses to track its users all over the web, without them having indicated whether or not they want to be tracked at all. The CPVP believes this a direct breach of privacy laws. The organization has now released an official complaint highlighting its specific concerns.
Facebook violates European and Belgian legislation on privacy. It is in a unique position and can easily connect the browsing habits of its users to their real identity, their interactions on social networks and sensitive data such as medical information, preferences religious, sexual and political.
Additionally, the organization has recommended that all users install “do not track” services on their computers and browsers. Some of the services they recommend for this include Blur, Disconnect and Ghostery.
Ghostery looks for third-party page elements (or “trackers”) on the web pages you visit. These can be things like social network widgets, advertisements, invisible pixels used for tracking and analytics, and so on. Ghostery notifies you that these things are present, and which companies operate them. You can learn more about these companies, and if you wish, choose to block the trackers they operate.
These services will stop Facebook, and other websites, from slurping up data in a secretive and hidden way. Additionally, the CPVP has sent copies of their findings to the office of the national prosecutor. Depending on their review of the case, Facebook could in fact face criminal proceedings.
The watchdog has worked together with the University of Leiden and with iMinds. Together, they drew up a report that highlights the fact that Facebook is able to create a profile of people who do not even use Facebook simply by how they connect to people who do actually use it frequently.
Device fingerprinting presents serious data protection concerns for individuals. For example, a number of online services have proposed device fingerprinting as an alternative to HTTP cookies for the purposes of providing analytics or for tracking without the need for consent under Article 5(3). This demonstrates the risks presented by device fingerprinting are not theoretical and research has shown that device fingerprinting is already being exploited. […] Therefore, parties who wish to process device fingerprints which are generated through the gaining of access to, or the storing of, information on the user’s terminal device must first obtain the valid consent of the user.
Facebook, who makes most of its money through cheap ads, denies that they have done any type of wrong. Indeed, a few days ago, a spokeswoman for Facebook stated that they were fully compliant with the laws in the European Union. As Facebook’s European headquarters are in Dublin, Ireland, the spokeswoman cited that they comply with the Irish interpretation. CPVP is not in agreement with this statement.
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 CBPL’s efforts is unclear.
The current data protection law applied by the European Union is a fully directive. This means that it became a national law that applies differently to all countries that are members of the EU. A current data protection regulation is being negotiated at present. If it comes through, it will apply to all EU countries in the same manner. This means any issue of jurisdiction will be removed.
Potential fines that could be imposed should the CPVP’s complaints be proven to be true, would amount to 5% of annual revenue. While 5% does not sound like a lot for a giant like Facebook, this would still be a huge sum of money. Facebook is not the first to have come under attack through the same commission. Indeed, Google has had to change its privacy laws as well. A Spanish commission determined that Google users had a “right to be forgotten,” which means Google is not allowed to track them indefinitely.
The commission is probing a range of other online companies as well. These include Apple and Amazon. It is believed that one of the reasons why these companies are being investigated now is due to revelations that the US has espionage activities in Europe. Additionally, it is believed US companies are using their power to stop start up companies from trying to break into the European market.
The new complaints could be devastating for international trade regulations. President Obama is currently trying to negotiate the TTIP, a transatlantic trade arrangement, against which there is widespread opposition. It is not likely that the TTIP will be able to come into force now.