Facebook to appeal Belgian court ban on tracking of people that aren't logged in

The Belgian Privacy Commission had lodged a case against Facebook

Facebook plans to appeal an order by a court in Belgium that banned it from tracking people who are not signed on to the social networking website.

The dispute largely hinges around Facebook's use of a special cookie called 'datr' that the company claims helps it distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate visits to its website.

"We've used the datr security cookie for more than five years to keep Facebook secure for 1.5 billion people around the world," a Facebook spokesman said Monday. "We will appeal this decision and are working to minimize any disruption to people's access to Facebook in Belgium.”

The court in Belgium on Monday gave the social networking company 48 hours to stop tracking users that don't have accounts on the site or risk fines of up to 250,000 euros (US$269,000) a day, according to news reports.

Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos wrote in a blog post last month that the Belgian Privacy Commission, which filed the complaint, had initially argued incorrectly that Facebook uses the datr cookie to target ads to people who aren’t its users.

The commission subsequently "focused on the fact that we set the datr cookie when someone visits one of our sites, such as Facebook.com, or clicks a Like button on a publisher's website and interacts with the login page that appears," according to Stamos, who added that the company does not set the datr cookie "when someone simply loads a page with a Like button."

A report by technical experts assisting the Belgian Privacy Commission on Facebook tracking through social plug-ins noted that Facebook is in an unique position as it can "link the browsing behavior of its users to their real world identities, social network interactions, offline purchases, and highly sensitive data such as medical information, religion, and sexual and political preferences."

The experts found that when a user not signed on to Facebook visited the social networking site, the datr cookie with a two-year lifetime was set. When they then visited a Web page on gayworld.be, a website that includes a Facebook social plug-in, the inspection of the network traffic revealed that the datr cookie was sent to the facebook.com domain in the cookie header of the HTTP requests.

If blocked from using the datr cookie, Facebook said it would have to treat visits to its service from Belgium as untrusted logins, requiring a range of other verification methods to establish that people are legitimately accessing their accounts.

Facebook faced a setback in October when the Court of Justice of the European Union, in a complaint against the company, declared invalid a "safe harbor" agreement governing personal data transfers between the European Union and the U.S., as the data was not protected from spying by U.S. agencies.

Facebook claims the controls related to datr have been evaluated and validated many times by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner. The company has held that it has only one establishment in the EU in Ireland, and that Irish law is applicable to the processing of personal data of all European users, according to a recommendation in May by the Belgian Privacy Commission. The commission asserted jurisdiction, stating, among other reasons, that local processor Facebook Belgium was a permanent establishment in Belgian territory being run by Facebook in the U.S. 

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?