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June 15, 2015

Belgium Sues Facebook for Allegedly Violating Privacy Laws

Flickr photo by Maria Elena

Belgium’s privacy regulator is taking Facebook to court.

The Belgian Privacy Commission has launched a lawsuit against the social network, accusing the firm of refusing to recognize Belgian and EU privacy laws.

The lawsuit is an escalation of the recommendation issued by the Commission last month in which it berated the social media giant, saying the company treats users’ personal data “with contempt.”

“Facebook is the social network par excellence which almost half of all Belgians are a member of,” Commission president Willem Debeuckelaere said.

“The way in which these members’ and all Internet users’ privacy is denied calls for measures. With this recommendation we have taken a first step toward Facebook and all Internet stakeholders who use Facebook, in order to ensure they start working in a privacy-friendly way. It’s bend or break.”

The Privacy Commission said Facebook, because its European headquarters are located in Dublin, believes it is subject only to Irish laws.

In a statement to Belgian publication DeMorgen, Debeuckelaere said Facebook’s actions “cannot be tolerated,” adding that he is hopeful the court will force the social network to amend its privacy practices.

The Commission, in February, released a report detailing Facebook’s alleged violations such as making it too hard for users to opt-out of ‘Sponsored Stories’ or collection of location data.

“Facebook’s opt-out approach with regard to behavioural profiling for advertising purposes do not meet the requirements for legally valid consent,” the report said.

The social media site’s policies on profiling for third-party advertising do not “meet the requirements for legally valid consent,” the report continued, adding that Facebook “fails to offer adequate control mechanisms” to keep user-generated content from being used in marketing ploys.

Facebook is also in the crosshairs of other country’s privacy regulators, including those in France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands.

The Dutch Data Protection Authority, which oversees online privacy for the Netherlands, has taken issue with the social network’s policy for handling users’ photos and data. The policy changes in question hand Facebook the right to use its members’ information and images for commercial purposes.

The privacy watchdog asked Facebook to put its Jan. 1 policy changes on hold until its probe was complete — Facebook did not comply.

Facebook has said it updated its terms and policies “to make them more clear and concise, to reflect new product features and to highlight how we’re expanding people’s control over advertising. We’re confident the updates comply with relevant laws.”


Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.