Belgium’s privacy watchdog is taking Facebook to court.
Reports indicate that the Commission for the Protection of Privacy is presenting its concerns to a Brussels judge on Thursday. This will be but the latest in the commission’s efforts to prevent Facebook from violating European privacy laws.
First came a report claiming that Facebook breaks laws requiring it to make it clear when it gathers data, that the opt-out system for advertising is inadequate, and that it doesn’t “properly acknowledge the data subject rights of its users.”
Then came a report indicating that Facebook was placing a unique, identifiable cookie on the computers of people who opted-out of its advertising system, thereby allowing the company to track those people despite their opting out.
And then other countries — France, Spain, and Italy — joined Belgium and its existing partners (Germany and the Netherlands) in scrutinizing the company. Facebook became, at least to European privacy advocates, a popular target.
Finally, Belgian researchers recommended that Europeans install privacy tools that will allow them to stop companies like Facebook from surveilling them. It also said that Facebook “tramples on European and Belgian privacy laws.”
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that Belgium isn’t going to let this go — even if Facebook says that too much scrutiny might be bad for European consumers, which is exactly what its head of policy in Europe said in the Financial Times:
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.
So far that threat, like a gnat stinging the back of someone’s hand, has done little more than irritate Belgium’s privacy commission. Now it looks like that gnat could be swatted, depending on the Brussels judge’s view on the matter.