Facebook to Appeal Belgian Privacy Ruling

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The battle over Facebook’s use of its datr cookie in Belgium has come to a head, with the company vowing to appeal a court ruling ordering it to stop tracking non-Facebook members in the country within 48 hours.

BBC News reported that if the social network does not comply with the order, it faces fines of up to 250,000 euros ($ 268,000) per day, with those funds going to the Belgian Privacy Commission.

The court said in a statement, as reported by BBC News:

The judge ruled that this is personal data, which Facebook can only use if the Internet user expressly gives their consent, as Belgian privacy law dictates.

A Facebook spokesperson told BBC News:

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 minimize any disruption to people’s access to Facebook in Belgium.

Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos defended the social network’s use of the datr cookie in a note last month, writing (in part):

If the court blocks us from using the datr cookie in Belgium, we would lose one of our best signals to demonstrate that someone is coming to our site legitimately. In practice, that means we would have to treat any visit to our service from Belgium as an untrusted login and deploy a range of other verification methods for people to prove that they are the legitimate owners of their accounts. It would also make Belgian devices more attractive to spammers and others who traffic in compromised accounts on underground forums.

The datr cookie is only associated with browsers, not individual people. It doesn’t contain any information that identifies or is tied to a particular person. At a technical level, we use the datr cookie to collect statistical information on the behavior of a browser on sites with social plugins, such as the like button, to help us distinguish patterns that look like an attacker from patterns that look like a real person.

Readers: How do you think this drama will play out?

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A Facebook Post, a School Board Race, and in Insane Ruling that Spits on the First Amendment

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Is a Facebook post a campaign contribution? In an extremely troubling ruling in Colorado over a charter school posting an article on their Facebook page about a school board candidate in a different area, posting to social media is now considered a tangible campaign contribution that breaks the law.

Those of us who believe in the Constitution and who understand social media realize that this is insane. Unfortunately, candidate Pam Howard’s campaign manager Gil Barela either doesn’t have these understandings or was hoping that administrative law judge Matthew E. Norwood was ignorant about the realities of social media. As a result, ignorance did prevail and the Constitution was pushed aside.

University of Colorado law professor Scott Moss felt like it was simply a matter of the judge being uneducated about or inexperienced with social media. According to the Coloradoan:

Moss described the judge’s understanding of social media as having “a Grandpa Simpson element” with “a tone of amazement and befuddlement about social media and opinion.”

Here’s how it all went down. Liberty Common School posted an article on their Facebook page about a student’s mother, Tomi Grundvig, who is running for school board in nearby Thompson School District. The post was shared by principal Bob Schaffer who called Grundvig an “excellent education leader.”

The judge ruled that it was an illegal campaign contribution. Yes, in America, a school sharing an article about a student’s parent is now considered to be an illegal campaign contribution. Nevermind that no actual contribution was made. Nevermind that the post was about a student’s parent. Nevermind that the vast majority of people following the page weren’t even in the school district in question.

These are the types of seeds that give political abusers the precedent and ammunition they need to make the common people fearful of consequences. In this case, the consequences were small, but the seed has now been planted. The message: if you receive funding from the government, your social media posts are now fair game for attack from bitter rivals to the perspectives that you communicate.

This post from the campaign that filed the complaint screams of irony in light of the ruling:

I don’t know a thing about the candidates, the district, or the politics behind it. The post above on Howard’s page seems to be giving the right message, but the actions by the campaign to attack the First Amendment don’t seem to match the rhetoric. They have set a precedent that can be used as a loophole to prevent political speech. The sad part is that this was a post from a completely different school district supporting the parent of a student. It would be different if there was clearly a contribution made by the school to a campaign. Forcing the classification of news sharing on free social media channels as “campaign contributions” is ludicrous.

We are blessed to live in a country that gives the ability to individuals to influence the course of laws that govern the land. Even a local school board candidate can make a huge impact. It’s unfortunate when this blessing has been abused in a way that tramples on the very political speech that we are granted.

There’s probably a lawyer in Howard’s camp right now typing up some sort of legal argument against this post. The destruction of freedoms always start small.

It isn’t prudent to endorse any candidate without knowing their politics, but we’re endorsing Tomi Grundvig in this case simply because she’s the candidate who isn’t trampling on the Constitution. If you happen to live in Thompson School District and you value freedom at all, we’d recommend you do the same.

Tomi Grundvig

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