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Belgium privacy commish ambushes Facebook with lawsuit

'Cannot continue to negotiate' with ad-slinging stalker

Facebook won't quit stalking people who aren't its users, so after months of wrangling, Belgium's Privacy Commissioner is pressing ahead with a lawsuit against The Social NetworkTM.

According to this report in Belgian news site De Morgen, the tracking is flagrant and sweeps up people who don't want to be tracked.

The Commission de Protection de la Vie Privée (CPVP) had warned Facebook in March that a lawsuit was possible, and in May it published a report that said “Facebook violates European and Belgian legislation on privacy”.

That complaint, based on a study conducted for the CPVP by iMinds and the University of Leuven and Vrije University, said the tracking allowed Facebook to connect peoples' identities with their medical history, religious preferences, sexuality and political orientation.

The CPVP said users should head for privacy add-ons like Ghostery, Blur or Disconnect to protect themselves.

Facebook's response was apparently a little too high-handed for the CPVP to tolerate: chairman Willem Debeuckelaere said its response was that Facebook doesn't accept either the Belgian law nor the authority of the privacy commission.

The ad network wants to keep negotiating, but Debeuckelaere is sick of the argy-bargy: while he says he'd rather not launch a lawsuit, “we can not continue to negotiate through other means”, he said. “We want a judge to impose our recommendations”.

Facebook has told The Guardian it's upset and called the action “theatrical”, since the first hearing on Thursday happens a day before the company is due to meet with the CPVP.

Sticking to the line that Belgium doesn't have jurisdiction, the company rep said it's “happy to work with them … through a dialogue with us at Facebook Ireland and with our regulator, the Irish data protection commissioner”.

As well as the Belgian lawsuit, Facebook faces actions in The Netherlands, and a pan-European investigation in which Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany are working together. ®

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