The Belgian government isn’t waffling on this one: Facebook privacy risks are so great individual users should protect themselves.
Specifically, the Belgian Commission for the Protection of Privacy issued an update report May 16 amplifying previous research which suggested Facebook is guilty of tracking without consent the online journeys and activities of Facebook users – and, even, non-users – within the confines of Facebook itself and beyond, to overall Internet use.
The updated report follows on the heels of a March report in which Facebook was accused of “trampling on European and Belgian privacy laws.”
The privacy commission called on Facebook to stop its tracking practices immediately and suggested Facebook users deploy browser privacy protection add-ons to block the social network giant from tracking or visit Facebook only in a browser’s private or incognito mode. The European Commission went so far in March as to suggest Europeans would be well-advised to simply close their Facebook accounts.
For its part, Facebook denies all the allegations and told The Guardian newspapers it adheres to European privacy laws.
“As we expressed to the CBPL in person when we met, there is nothing more important to us than the privacy of our users and we work hard to make sure people have control over what they share and with whom,” The Guardian quoted a Facebook spokesperson. “Facebook is already regulated in Europe and complies with European data protection law, so the applicability of the CBPL’s efforts are unclear. But we will of course review the recommendations when we receive them with our European regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.”
Privacy laws are far more strict in Europe than in, say, the United States and Europeans generally take much more seriously online privacy rights than do American Internet users. European privacy laws insists, for example, that individual Internet users must grant explicit permission (with some exceptions) before any online companies can land tracking “cookies” on users’ computers. It also requires online companies to tell users in advance it is using cookies to track online activities.
A European class-action lawsuit was filed in April alleging Facebook illegally tracks users’ activities and Facebook admitted at the time it may have been tracking non-Facebook users but blamed the problem on a bug.
The May 16th Belgian Privacy Commission’s report and recommendations follows and takes its information from a report in April issued by researchers at the Centre of Interdisciplinary Law and ICT (ICRI) and the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography department (Cosic) at the University of Leuven.
Facebook is not alone in being scrutinized by European regulators. Google is also facing intense criticism and legal action from European authorities, which charged it in April with anti-trust violations.
In addition to legitimate privacy concerns much of the European action against Facebook, Google and other (mostly) American giant Internet companies stems from a more basic concern those giant tech firms are being used or manipulated by the U.S. government (the National Security Agency, specifically) to spy on Internet users around the world.