Belgian authorities are placing mounting pressure on Facebook to respect the privacy of Internet users and stop tracking their activities outside of the social network without their explicit consent.
The Privacy Protection Commission of Belgium, also known as CBPL, issued a statement Thursday declaring that "it's make or break time" for Facebook to show that it prioritizes user privacy and that the way it handles users' online information "without respect needs tackling." The CBPL also criticized Facebook, which it says gives "miserly" answers to questions about how it handles user privacy.
This follows a report commissioned by the data protection commission that found out Facebook monitors the activities of users who visit any page on Facebook's domain that does not require logging in and users who visit one of the 13 million websites that use a Facebook plugin to display a Like button.
"The way in which [Facebook] is contemptuous of the private lives of its members and of all Internet users demands action," Willem Debeuckalaere, president of the CBPL, said.
The privacy protection body, which has no authority to levy fines upon Facebook if found guilty of breaching privacy laws, recommends that Facebook ask for users' explicit consent before monitoring their activities and limit their tracking activities only to users who are logged in to the social network instead of expanding their reach to follow them across the Web.
The CBPL also says websites that use the Facebook social plugin must use a two-stage click-through process to prevent users who do not want to be tracked by Facebook from being exposed to its cookies. It also advises users to install privacy-protecting extensions onto their computers, such as Ghostery and Privacy Badger.
However, Facebook is adamant about its claim that user privacy is a top priority. A spokesperson for the Palo Alto, California company questions the CBPL's authority, saying that it already complies with the privacy laws of Ireland, where its European headquarters are located. Ireland has long been criticized by other European countries for its lax data protection measures in place to attract foreign investors.
"Facebook is already regulated in Europe and complies with European data protection law, so the applicability of the CBPL's efforts are unclear," says Facebook. "But we will of course review the recommendations when we receive them with our European regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner."
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