Facebook has been collecting data from both users and non-users across the internet, and Europeans are not having it.
A Belgian court has ruled that Facebook violates privacy laws by using technologies like cookies, plug-ins, and pixels, to track internet users’ browsing behaviors on up to 10,000 websites, whether or not users even have a Facebook account. A similar ruling was handed down by a German court just last week.
The legal battle began in 2015 when the Belgian Privacy Commission brought a civil suit against Facebook, who attempted to argue, unsuccessfully, that because their European headquarters is in Ireland, they are outside of the jurisdiction of Belgian law.
Nonetheless, the Belgian court is charging Facebook fines of €250,000 per day, up to €100 million, or 124,000 million U.S. dollars, if they fail to comply. The court has ordered FB to cease tracking Belgian internet users and to destroy the data they’ve already collected.
What’s Facebook’s excuse for non-consensually gathering so much data? As usual, they try to sell users on giving up their privacy for a more “relevant” ad experience. But we all know this is just a coded way of saying that they do it for the advertisers.
Facebook also claims that this data gathering is consensual and that users have the option to opt out. “We require any business that uses our technologies to provide clear notice to end-users, and we give people the right to opt-out of having data collected on sites and apps off Facebook being used for ads,” says Richard Allen, Facebook’s vice president for public policy in Europe.
However, the court, and Belgian privacy watchdog groups, say that many of Facebook’s tracking mechanisms are invisible to the user, and that privacy controls are preset to opt-in, with opt-out options difficult to find. The Belgian court also says that Facebook isn’t being clear enough about how the data they’re collecting is being used.
Facebook plans to appeal the ruling, and the case could very well end up in the CJEU, Europe’s supreme court. The social media giant will probably have an increasingly difficult time getting away with tracking practices after the EU passes new rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, in May.