A Belgian administrative decision was taken by the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Brussels on February 16th against the Internet giant Facebook, asking it to comply with the Belgian law on data protection and stop drawing its user’s data without their consent, with s penalty of €250,000 per day, with a limit of €100 million.
The Belgian courts criticize the social network for its use of “cookies” and “Like” or “Share” buttons appearing on its pages, which reveal information on the habits of its users, and which it makes available to other sites, for a fee.
The 84-page court decision, against which the Internet giant has announced its intention to appeal, is to be published on the Facebook site and in Belgian newspapers in the next three months.
The Belgian court had already warned the company since 2015, when a court ordered it to stop storing personal data of non-users.
Facebook’s lawyers focused their defense on the argument that a Belgian court could not rule on a company headquartered in the United States. An argument that was rejected by the Belgian court, which declared itself competent to rule on violations of the Belgian law on privacy when the company follows Internet users in Belgium.
This decision is of significant importance; it is the first decision taken by a European court concerning the use of technology deemed essential to its proper functioning.
The social network has been in the crosshairs of the authorities of different European countries for many years already, given its policy of using the data for targeted advertising purposes. It was also found that Facebook was unknowingly tracking users, with or without an account, to third-party sites via cookies.
For example, the Netherlands is investigating whether recent changes are sufficient under its law. In Germany, the data protection authority issued two injunctions concerning the Facebook group, while two infringement procedures were also opened in Spain.
But the power of Facebook in terms of finance and lobbying is such that it seems almost impossible to remove our data from its servers, and the firms whose annual profits amount to several billion euros can afford to pay the insignificant fines.
Thus, we remember that in March 2017 in France, the National Commission for Informatics and Liberties (CNIL) had sentenced the social network to 150,000 euro fine, because of “numerous breaches of the Data Protection and Freedoms Act” in its management of user data.
A sanction that should not hurt Facebook and its shareholders too much when we know that the fine of 150,000 euros is about 0.005% of the last quarterly profit of the company; the equivalent of what it wins in 10 minutes.
We know that the harvesting of data by Facebook is done using very sophisticated and extremely intrusive processes and that data always end up in the Californian servers of the company without the users being aware of it.
The new EU Data Protection Regulation, which is expected to go in effect in May 2018, could help preserve some of the privacy of users, even though the text in question seems to have forgotten another important point: the protection regarding the States and institutions.
This is expressed very well by Thomas Watanabe-Vermorel, representative of the Pirate Party, who argues for a new vision of intellectual property and the defense of freedoms, saying: