Facebook due in Belgian court this week to settle privacy wrangles

The Belgian privacy watchdog is taking Facebook to court over its privacy practices and how it handles 'social plugins'.

The Belgian privacy regulator is taking Facebook to court over privacy issues including the way it tracks people that don't use its services.

The court case will be heard at the civil court of first instance in Brussels on Thursday, according to Belgian newspaper De Morgen.

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Last month, Belgium's Commission for the Protection of Privacy (CBPL) raised concerns over Facebook's ability to track non-users of the site, as well as logged out users, through social plugins such as its Like button. It also highlighted that Facebook can easily link "its users' surfing behaviour to their real identity, social network interactions and sensitive data such as medical information and religious, sexual and political preferences. This implies that tracking by Facebook is more intrusive compared to most of the other cases of so-called 'third-party tracking'."

The commission said at the time that Facebook "tramples on European and Belgian privacy law" and criticised the way that the company gathers individuals' consent for the use of cookies.

The commission has called on Facebook to step up the privacy protections for users, for example, by implementing an "unambiguous and specific opt-in for collecting and using data through cookies and social plug-ins" unless cookies are necessary for the operation of a service that a user has explicitly requested to use.

Facebook however has questioned whether the Belgian regulator has jurisdiction over the social network, saying it is regulated instead by the data protection commission in Ireland, where its European headquarters are located. The Belgian Privacy Commission however disputes this, not least because Facebook has an office in country's capital, Brussels.

The commission has subpoenaed Facebook in Belgium, Ireland and the US, Willem Debeuckelaere, chairman of the commission, told De Morgen. "Facebook's behaviour can't be tolerated," the paper quotes him as saying.

The Privacy Commission confirmed the case will begin on Thursday, saying that three main points are at issue in the case: Facebook's refusal to accept that Belgian law applies to it, its use of social plug-ins to track non-users, and how it shares information with third party sites.

Facebook said in a statement: "We were surprised and disappointed that, after the CBPL had already agreed to meet with us on the 19th June to discuss their recommendations, they took the theatrical action of bringing Facebook Belgium to court on the day beforehand. Although we are confident that there is no merit to the CBPL's case, we remain happy to work with them in an effort to resolve their concerns, through a dialogue with us at Facebook Ireland and with our regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner."

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