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Europe Data Protection Digest | Notes from the IAPP Europe Managing Director, April 3, 2015 Related reading: A conversation on protecting children's privacy




Today, I have Facebook on my mind, not Georgia. In a story close to home, literally, a recent report produced for the Belgian Privacy Commission concluded that the site tracks people without their consent. The report says the social media giant places cookies whenever someone visits a webpage belonging to the domain, even if the visitor is not a Facebook user. Conducted by the Centre of Interdisciplinary Law and ICT at the University of Leuven in Belgium, the report claims that Facebook’s privacy policy update in January has not sufficiently addressed privacy concerns and found that it continues to infringe European consumer protection law.

Facebook, for its part, says the report's authors had "declined to meet with us or clarify the inaccurate information about this and other topics." I think Facebook might well have a point here. A spokesperson at Facebook in an email said virtually all websites, including Facebook, legally use cookies to offer their services.

"If people want to opt out of seeing advertising based on the websites they visit and apps they use, they opt out through the EDAA, whose principles and opt-out we and more than 100 other companies comply with," said the Facebook contact.

The report broadly concludes that Facebook is infringing European data protection regulations in various ways and that Facebook’s policy on advertisements and data from user profiles does not comply with the requirements of the regulations. Furthermore, there is no control mechanism to prevent data placed by users on Facebook from being used for commercial purposes. Finally, the report also states that Facebook misuses location data from mobile devices without asking users’ permission.

The report raised enough valid questions that the European Parliament has asked official questions of the European Commission through Kathleen Van Brempt, S&D, Belgium, member of the Committee on Enterprise and Industry.

The primary question being, does the European Commission (EC) believe that Facebook is in fact infringing the European Data Protection Directive? And if so, will the EC launch an investigation into the alleged infringement(s)?

More broadly, and taking account of the overall European digital market and increasing popularity of all things through the Internet, the European Parliament is also asking if the European Commission intends to take additional measures to address the growing concerns and complexity around data protection, security and privacy. What does this mean for the broader technology industry? Is this an indicator of more scrutiny to come for the large technology multinationals?

The EC’s answers to Parliament’s questions may very well give us a glimpse of the future. 


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