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Landmark privacy ruling in Belgium could end Facebook's European woes

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Facebook has won an important legal victory in Belgium that allows it to continue to track the web activity of non-users of its social network.

The Brussels Appeals Court has dismissed a case filed against Facebook by the Belgian Privacy Commission, stating that the country’s privacy watchdog has no jurisdiction over the tech giant, as it has its European headquarters in Ireland.

The Belgian Privacy Commission first took Facebook to court last year, alleging that it was violating EU privacy law by tracking the web activity of individuals who weren’t signed up to its platform without their approval.

The new ruling marks an important victory for Facebook, which insisted that only the Irish Data Protection Commissioner has authority over how it handles its European data, reports Reuters.

At the center of the case was Facebook’s use of what is known as a “datr” cookie. The social network uses this tool to track the online browsing activity of both users and non-users, collecting information every time a person clicks on a Facebook “Like” button on another website.

In November, a Brussels commercial court gave the social network 48 hours to stop using the cookie to track non-users, or it would face a daily fine of 250,000 euros (roughly $268,900) to the Belgian data watchdog. Facebook agreed to the ruling, adding that it would appeal the decision.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision and look forward to bringing all our services back online for people in Belgium,” a Facebook spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The Belgian data authority isn’t backing down and plans to launch a final appeal with the Court of Cassation, which can throw out prior judgements but cannot deliver new ones.

“Today’s decision simply and purely means that the Belgian citizen cannot obtain the protection of his private life through the courts and tribunals when it concerns foreign actors,” the regulator said in a statement.

The decision could set a precedent regarding the tech giant’s collection of data in Europe, where it has previously suffered a number of setbacks over privacy concerns. Earlier this year, the French data regulator ordered Facebook to stop using cookies or face severe penalties, including a daily fine. In March, the German Federal Cartel Office (the Bundeskartellamt) announced the launch of its own investigation into the company in relation to its suspected abuse of market power over breaches of data protection laws.

Facebook’s tracking of non-users of its platform was recently revealed as integral to its new advertising venture, known as the “Audience Network.” The tool will see it serve up personalized ads across third-party websites.

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