Facebook is challenging a ban on tracking citizen data by the Belgian Government which prevents it collecting information from users and even non-users under EU law. The company tracks local users surfing habits, including millions of Belgian residents who aren’t even part of the social network.
Belgium’s data protection authority is upholding the 2018 court order and will face the Facebook lawyers on Wednesday for a two-day hearing on the matter. They will try to strike off the ban which carries a threat of daily fines of 250,000 Euros if it fails to comply.
The amount has raised eyebrows in some quarters as potential way to tax the US tech giant while appearing to protect civil liberties. In recent years several governments have taken to imposing fines on Facebook and other internet tech giants for privacy infringements rather than risk angering the business sector with tax increases.
The Belgian government position is strengthened with the recent advent of tougher European Union data protection and privacy rules. In light of these Belgium’s privacy watchdog says Facebook “still violates the fundamental rights of millions of residents of Belgium”. The courts agreed last year – ruling that Facebook fails to provide enough information how it collects personal data, or explain why it collects the data in the first place on their web use, and finally what it actually does with the data itself. The Facebook legal team will have to provide answers to these questions for the non-user data it collects as well.
“Facebook then uses that information to profile your surfing behavior 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 emailed statement on Wednesday.
Facebook is under pressure in Europe as national authorities are increasing the level of fines they issue under the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation. Germany’s Federal Cartel Office just last month ordered Facebook to overhaul how it tracks its users’ internet browsing and smartphone apps in the first EU case combining privacy with competition enforcement.
Avoiding a direct answer Facebook responded saying that it understand “that people want more information and control over the data Facebook receives from other websites and apps that use our services,” the company said in a statement.
“That’s why we are developing Clear History, that will let you to see the websites and apps that send us information when you use them, disconnect this information from your account, and turn off our ability to store it associated with your account going forward,” it said. “We have also made a number of changes to help people understand how our tools work and explain the choices they have, including through our” privacy updates.
However it did not volunteer what exactly those cookies track throughout it’s workflows, and exactly what those tracking technologies are.