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Facebook 'violates Euro data law' say Belgian data cops' researchers

Social network? 'VAST ADVERTISING NETWORK', you mean

Facebook has reportedly been illegally tracking the web browsing habits of every visitor to its site, even if those visitors aren't account holders or have explicitly opted out of tracking when within the EU, according to a critical analysis by researchers at the University of Leuven and the Free University of Brussels.

The provisional report, paid for by the Belgian Privacy Commission claims that Facebook's revised Data Use Policy (DUP) of 20 January 2015 was effectively a means of authorising itself to:

  • (1) track its users across websites and devices
  • (2) use profile pictures for both commercial and non-commercial purposes and
  • (3) collect information about its users’ whereabouts on a continuous basis

The study claims that the the changes introduced "weren't all that drastic" but rather a means of making existing policies "more explicit".

"Our analysis indicates that Facebook is acting in violation of European law," the researchers say in a press release.

Although the revised DUP is simply an extension of existing practices, the revision raised concerns among researchers "because Facebook's data processing capabilities have increased both horizontally and vertically. By horizontal we refer to the increase in data gathered from different sources".

"Vertical refers to the deeper and more detailed view Facebook has on its users," said the report. "Both are leveraged to create a vast advertising network [Emphasis in the original] which uses data from inside and outside Facebook to target both users and non-users of Facebook."

Mainly operating through a liberal distribution of tracking cookies, Facebook has allowed itself thorough access to your information, with the current intention of better selling things to you, the study argues.

Facebook supplied the Register with the following comments:

This report contains factual inaccuracies. The authors have never contacted us, nor sought to clarify any assumptions upon which their report is based. Neither did they invite our comment on the report before making it public ...

However it appears that Facebook did in fact get a chance to comment on an earlier draft version. The giant ad firm didn't tell us what the "factual inaccuracies" are, but it seems the company did tell the Belgian DPA:

We have explained in detail the inaccuracies in the earlier draft report ... directly to the Belgian DPA, who we understand commissioned it, and have offered to meet with them to explain why it is incorrect, but they have declined to meet or engage with us. However, we remain willing to engage with them and hope they will be prepared to update their work in due course.

However the Belgian data cops apparently remain happy with their report as it stands - and its authors state bluntly that Facebook is breaking European law. ®

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