Pando

Belgium, unafraid of Facebook's threat to European regulators, advises consumers to install privacy tools

By Nathaniel Mott , written on May 18, 2015

From The News Desk

Belgium's privacy watchdog has advised consumers to install software that will prevent Facebook from collecting information about their browsing activities. And in case that recommendation didn't make its stance on the company clear, the group also said Facebook "tramples on European and Belgian privacy laws."

Facebook has come under increasing scrutiny across Europe over fears that it's violating anti-tracking laws. Belgium was among the first countries to criticize the company, but it won't be the last: Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy, and Spain have all expressed mounting concern over Facebook's data practices.

This opinion stems from allegations that Facebook is tracking its users without telling them how their data will be used, that it's tracking people who don't even have an account with its social network, and that its terms of service "do not properly acknowledge the data subject rights of its users."

Facebook has grown increasingly defensive about these allegations. First it said that the report from Belgium's researchers contained "factual inaccuracies" and claimed that the researchers didn't seek its input before publishing their report. Then it said its tracking of non-users was the result of a "bug" in its platform.

And then it went on the offensive, with its head of policy in Europe using a piece in the Financial Times to threaten countries that continue to look into its data practices, under the guise of expressing concern for smaller European startups:

For internet companies, too, national regulation would pose serious obstacles. Facebook’s costs would increase, and people in Europe would notice new features arriving more slowly, or not at all. The biggest victims would be smaller European companies. The next big thing might never see the light of day. We know from experience that getting a company off the ground is hard enough already. And if regulation at the national level is adopted, it could stop start-ups before they even really get started. At a time when Europe is looking to create jobs and grow its economy, the results could be disastrous.
Belgium must not be worried about Facebook dragging its feet in bringing new features to its European users. It's like I said in my piece about the company's threat: if you're going to warn regulators against investigating your company, it's probably better to go with something scarier than delaying product releases.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]