Update 3:00 p.m. 12/3/15: Facebook has bowed to pressure to stop following the online activity of non-users of its network in Belgium following a court’s privacy ruling last month.
In a letter to the Belgian Privacy Commissioner (BPC), Facebook stated that it would “fully” comply with the court order, despite its intention to contest it, reports the BBC.
Facebook will now block access to pages for non-users in Belgium and existing cookies for such users will be deleted where possible. Facebook adds that it will continue implementing cookies for users logged-in to its service to protect against attacks on its platform.
“We continue to have significant concerns that requirements set forth during these proceedings in respect of cookie practices have not been applied fairly and equitably within Belgium to other internet services, as demonstrated in the reports we have submitted in the past,” stated Facebook in its letter to the BPC.
Original text: Can Facebook live without tracking its users throughout the Internet, even when they’re not logged into the biggest social network in the world? While the answer to that question is unresolved in many places, Facebook was told by a commercial court in Brussels to stop using cookies that do just that to Belgian users, reports the BBC.
At the heart of the issue is what’s known as a “datr” cookie. Every time users either visit the social network or click a Facebook “Like” button on other websites on their browser of choice, Facebook would use the datr cookie to track any online activities that browser conducts. Unfortunately for Facebook, the Brussels court ordered the company to stop using the cookie to track non-Facebook users within 48 hours, or pay a daily fine of 250,000 euros, or roughly $268,900, to the Belgian privacy regulator.
According to the court, the judge arrived at this decision after concluding that Facebook needed to obtain the consent of these users before collecting information. “The judge ruled that this is personal data, which Facebook can only use if the Internet user expressly gives their consent, as Belgian privacy law dictates,” said the court in a statement.
Unsurprisingly, Facebook plans to appeal this decision on the grounds that the datr cookie helps keep the social network secure. “We’ve used the ‘datr’ cookie for more than five years to keep Facebook secure for 1.5 billion people around the world,” said a company spokeswoman. “We will appeal the decision and are working to minimise any disruption to people’s access to Facebook in Belgium.”
The issue surrounding Facebook’s use of the datr cookie first came to light in June of this year, when Belgium’s privacy watchdog, the Commission for the Protection of Privacy (CPP), took legal action against Facebook for delivering targeted advertisements to persons who didn’t use Facebook at all. Facebook defended these ads at the time by saying it was an industry-wide practice, but it is one that, anecdotally, has aroused the ire of many Internet users.