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19th Nov 2018

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Belgium tells Facebook to stop using tracking cookies

  • More than half of Belgium's Internet users are estimated to have a Facebook account (Photo: Maurizio Pesce)

A Belgian court told Facebook on Monday (9 November) it should stop tracking Belgians who aren't a member of the social networking site, or pay a daily penalty of €250,000 for as long as the practice continues.

The ruling comes after Belgium's privacy watchdog sued Facebook, for placing small files called cookies on people's computers, even if they had not given permission. Facebook has appealed the decision.

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A spokesperson for the Dutch-language court of first instance in Brussels said in a press release Monday that these cookies contain personal data, and that Facebook may only place them on users' computers if it has been given “unambiguous consent.”

“If the [Internet] surfer has a Facebook account, one may assume that he has given this consent, but if the surfer has no Facebook account, then Facebook has to explicitly ask for permission, and give the required explanation,” spokesperson Anouk Devenyns said.

She added that Facebook places cookies that track whether an internet user visited a Facebook page “of a friend, or a retail chain, a political party, a self-help group, or another association”.

They can subsist for two years.

“The judge emphasised that not only is the placing of the cookies, but also the collecting of the personal data via these cookies, contrary to the Belgian privacy law, and even illegal,” the spokesperson noted.

It is the first time that a European privacy watchdog successfully sued Facebook for not complying with privacy law.

Following the verdict, Facebook released a short statement about its use of the tracking cookie, the so-called “datr cookie”.

“We've used the datr cookie for more than five years to keep Facebook secure for 1.5 billion people around the world. We will appeal this decision and are working to minimise any disruption to people's access to Facebook in Belgium,” the company said, not going into the fact that it is the tracking of non-members of Facebook the Belgian court is most concerned about.

According to the most recent data from Internet World Stats, more than half of Belgium's Internet users have a Facebook account.

The ruling comes a month after European judges ruled that an EU-US data transfer pact was invalid, following a complaint against Facebook Ireland.

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