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Facebook to Fight Belgian Ban on Tracking Users (and Even Non-Users)

Stephanie Bodoni
Facebook to Fight Belgian Ban on Tracking Users (and Even Non-Users)

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. is attacking a Belgian court order forcing it to stop tracking local users’ surfing habits, including those of millions who aren’t signed up to the social network.

The U.S. tech giant will come face to face with the Belgian data protection authority in a Brussels appeals court for a two-day hearing starting on Wednesday. The company will challenge the 2018 court order and the threat of a daily fine of 250,000 euros ($281,625) should it fail to comply.

Armed with new powers since the introduction of stronger European Union data protection rules, Belgium’s privacy watchdog argues Facebook “still violates the fundamental rights of millions of residents of Belgium.” The Brussels Court of First Instance in February 2018 ruled that Facebook doesn’t provide people with enough information about how and why it collects data on their web use, or what it does with the information.

“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 facing increasing scrutiny in Europe as privacy authorities are looking to increase the level of fines they issue under the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation, which allow penalties as large as 4 percent of a company’s annual revenue. Antitrust regulators too have been probing the social network with Germany’s Federal Cartel Office last month ordering Facebook to overhaul how it tracks its users’ internet browsing and smartphone apps in the first case to combine privacy with competition enforcement.

Belgium’s data protection authority last year won the court’s backing for its attack against Facebook’s use of cookies, social plug-ins -- the "like" or "share" buttons -- and tracking technologies that are invisible to the naked eye to collect data on people’s behavior during their visits to other sites.

Facebook understands “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.

Facebook last year after the ruling said it had “worked hard to help people understand how we use cookies to keep Facebook secure and show them relevant content” and that the cookies and that the tracking technologies it uses "are industry standard."

(Updates with Facebook response in seventh paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Bodoni in Luxembourg at sbodoni@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net, Peter Chapman, Nate Lanxon

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