Facebook tells Belgian government its use of English invalidates privacy case

Ha! Ha! You said 'cookie'


As legal arguments go, this may not be the strongest.

Facebook has told the Belgian government that it cannot proceed with its privacy case against the social media giant because of its use of English terms like "cookie", "browser" and "server".

The company was told back in November to stop tracking people without Facebook accounts within 48 hours or be fined 250,000 euros a day.

Since the company did not inform visitors or users that it installed cookies in their browsers, or ask for permission to do so, it was breaking Belgium's privacy laws, the country's privacy watchdog argued, and a Belgian court agreed.

Facebook grumpily agreed soon after but not before promising to appeal the ruling and warning that by blocking its information gathering code, it was putting people's online security at risk.

That appeal is now underway and according to the company's Belgian lawyer, Dirk Lindemans, the fact that the Belgian court order contains common computer terminology in English is a reason to throw out the case altogether. He told Belgian newspaper De Tijd: "Justice must be understood by all. Otherwise it's a slippery slope towards class justice."

The logic is that some Belgians would not understand the terms server, home, browser or cookie, and so would be disadvantaged. Instead, the sentences with the words in should have been written in Dutch, Facebook's response argues. The fact they weren't is grounds for annulment.

Le what?

The argument is truly bizarre given that computer terms are often imported into European languages for the simple reason that they often entirely new and refer to entirely new things. "Cookie" meaning piece of tracking code for example is called "cookie" just about all over the world.

Even the notoriously protective French incorporate English terms all the time, with the occasional effort to displace them typically being ignored or mocked by French citizens who really couldn't care less. "Le weekend" jumps to mind.

Fortunately this is not Facebook's only legal argument to the court order. It also claims that Belgian law doesn't apply since it processes all its data in Ireland.

That's also not on very strong ground given the recent decision by the European Court of Justice over Max Schrems lawsuit brought against Facebook - which resulted in the Safe Harbor agreement being torn up. The ECJ judgment made it plain that each country's data protection authority was entitled to act independently.

If data is being gathered on Belgian citizens, sat in Belgium, it's not hard to imagine that Belgian courts will imagine it falls within their jurisdiction. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Despite global uncertainty, $500m hit doesn't rattle Nvidia execs
    CEO acknowledges impact of war, pandemic but says fundamentals ‘are really good’

    Nvidia is expecting a $500 million hit to its global datacenter and consumer business in the second quarter due to COVID lockdowns in China and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Despite those and other macroeconomic concerns, executives are still optimistic about future prospects.

    "The full impact and duration of the war in Ukraine and COVID lockdowns in China is difficult to predict. However, the impact of our technology and our market opportunities remain unchanged," said Jensen Huang, Nvidia's CEO and co-founder, during the company's first-quarter earnings call.

    Those two statements might sound a little contradictory, including to some investors, particularly following the stock selloff yesterday after concerns over Russia and China prompted Nvidia to issue lower-than-expected guidance for second-quarter revenue.

    Continue reading
  • Another AI supercomputer from HPE: Champollion lands in France
    That's the second in a week following similar system in Munich also aimed at researchers

    HPE is lifting the lid on a new AI supercomputer – the second this week – aimed at building and training larger machine learning models to underpin research.

    Based at HPE's Center of Excellence in Grenoble, France, the new supercomputer is to be named Champollion after the French scholar who made advances in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs in the 19th century. It was built in partnership with Nvidia using AMD-based Apollo computer nodes fitted with Nvidia's A100 GPUs.

    Champollion brings together HPC and purpose-built AI technologies to train machine learning models at scale and unlock results faster, HPE said. HPE already provides HPC and AI resources from its Grenoble facilities for customers, and the broader research community to access, and said it plans to provide access to Champollion for scientists and engineers globally to accelerate testing of their AI models and research.

    Continue reading
  • Workday nearly doubles losses as waves of deals pushed back
    Figures disappoint analysts as SaaSy HR and finance application vendor navigates economic uncertainty

    HR and finance application vendor Workday's CEO, Aneel Bhusri, confirmed deal wins expected for the three-month period ending April 30 were being pushed back until later in 2022.

    The SaaS company boss was speaking as Workday recorded an operating loss of $72.8 million in its first quarter [PDF] of fiscal '23, nearly double the $38.3 million loss recorded for the same period a year earlier. Workday also saw revenue increase to $1.43 billion in the period, up 22 percent year-on-year.

    However, the company increased its revenue guidance for the full financial year. It said revenues would be between $5.537 billion and $5.557 billion, an increase of 22 percent on earlier estimates.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022