Facebook has been getting some backlash from global governments this week; the Indian Telecommunication Regulatory Authority recently decreed that its Free Basics initiative was too likely to condone internet censorship to be legal in the country, and France’s CNIL agency decided that Facebook would be given three months to come into accordance with its laws protecting French citizens’ rights to maintain the privacy of their data.
A few months back, the Belgian privacy commission came into conflict with the social media mogul for tracking internet users who are not even members of the social network.
Belgian courts took issue with this fact: every time someone clicks the “like” button on a website, Facebook collects their browsing activity regardless of whether or not they’re Facebook users. According to Facebook, it would weaken the security of its 1.5 billion members to remove that tool.
So what exactly does this enormous, expanding and arguably power-hungry company do with your data, and should you be worried? Here’s a little information on the subject.
Facebook uses a particular kind of cookie, which is just a text file that can track a number of user activities, and has been using this cookie for the last five or six years. Belgian courts didn’t like that these cookies could be stored on a computer and sent to Facebook without notifying the user, who never agreed for anything because they’re note even a Facebook user.
In January of 2015, Facebook changed its terms and conditions to allow for its cookies to track users across websites and devices, use profile pictures for both commercial and noncommercial purposes, and collect information about its users’ locations.
According to Facebook spokespeople, these cookies are used in such a way that protects users’ security. They make it harder to create fake accounts, reduce the risk of the users’ accounts being taken over by other people, protect the users’ content against theft and present distributed denial of service attacks.
According to head of Facebook security Alex Stamos, making it impossible for Facebook to use the cookie would cause Facebook tok “lose one of our best signals to demonstrate that someone is coming to our site legitimately.”
Brendan Van Alsenoy authored the report regarding Belgium’s ruling and claimed that Facebook’s argument wasn’t good enough:
“We don’t find it persuasive. We think it is excessive. There are less intrusive ways to do this.”
The ability to track web-browsing habits, even anonymized ones, makes it possible to better target those advertisements to users who will purchase items.
Facebook allows users to opt out of having ads targeted at them by going to their Settings, Adverts, then Advert Preferences but, as Alsenoy says, this does not stop Facebook from collecting information.
Regardless of how the conflict in Belgium is resolved, tech moguls will have to face these privacy issues again and again with European countries. A court in Austria already considering whether it will bring action against Facebook for violating its privacy laws as well.